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Vivek Jain | USLHC | USA

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An “X-ray” of a detector– Part II

In a previous post, I had described how we use photons to map the material in a detector. Here I will mention a complementary way using particles such protons, pions, neutrons, etc. (these particles are collectively known as hadrons).

Hadrons interact with matter differently than photons; the latter interact purely via the electromagnetic force, whereas the former do so mainly via the strong force. The likelihood of hadrons interacting in matter is quantified by a property called the “interaction length; more about this later.

Just as a photon can convert when it travels through material, a hadron can interact and produce what we call a “secondary interaction”. In a way, this is the same idea as when the two proton beams at the LHC collide. Let’s say I have a proton that was created in the primary collision. As it travels out through the detector, it can interact with another proton in a nucleus in, say, the silicon detector. At times, this secondary interaction will have two or more charged particles emerging from it; at other times, one may have only one charged particle coming, e.g., one pion and two neutrons, or, the initial proton may just suffer a small deflection, etc.

If the secondary interaction has two or more charged particles coming out of it, we can use our software to check if the daughter particles come from the same spatial point. If they do, we have a vertex describing the location of the secondary interaction. The spatial distribution of these secondary vertices will give us a map of the material in the detector. I am currently working on this project and preliminary results are very promising.

As I wrote in the previous post, the likelihood of photon conversions in a material can be quantified by a property called “radiation length”; this depends on the intrinsic properties of the material such as atomic number, i.e., number of protons in the atom, and also atomic mass, which is proportional to the number of protons and neutrons in the atom. Since photons interact via the electromagnetic force, “radiation length” has to depend on the charge of the nucleus, i.e., the atomic number. In contrast, the strong force makes no distinction between a proton and a neutron, thus, “interaction length” has no dependence on the atomic number, but only on the atomic mass. The latter length also has some dependence on the energy of the incident particle. Although, we can derive from one from the other, it can be tricky. Since every material in our simulation package has to be described with a radiation and an interaction length, material maps made using photons and hadrons serve as very good checks on our understanding.

— Vivek Jain, Indiana University

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