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Frank Simon | MPI for Physics | Germany

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Make No Little Plans

Technology is a key driver for advances in particle physics, as with many other disciplines as well. In recognition of this importance, there is a conference series dedicated to this topic, Technology and Instrumentation in Particle Physics, TIPP, which started two years ago in Tsukuba, Japan. The second conference in this series is taking place at the moment in Chicago.

A slide from Marcel Demarteau's opening talk at TIPP11, illustrating a well-known example of quantum leaps in innovation.

A key theme of the conference is innovation and the development of new technologies as the enabler of discoveries. Very often, we go in small steps: Take a proven technology, something we’ve been working with for quite a while, and push the limits a bit further. But once in a while, you need something different: A radical solution, a big step forward that changes performance parameters by large amounts. We’ve seen such leaps in the past: A prominent example is the invention of the multi-wire proportional chamber by George Charpak in 1968, for which he was awarded the 1992 Nobel Price of Physics. That technology has enabled modern particle physics, by providing the possibility for good spatial resolution and high trigger rates. In many forms, this technology is still with us today in small and large experiments. George Charpak passed away late last year, and was remembered in a dedicated session here in Chicago.

Current transformative technologies often have something to do with semiconductors. Here, I just give two examples:
Tiny photon sensors on silicon basis which provide the possibility for single photon detection – This, together with the advances in electronics allows to increase the channel counts in modern calorimeters by a factor of thousand (I’ve written a lot about these things here…). 3D-technology for silicon detectors, which promises to deliver ultra-thin, fast detectors with low power consumption that even provide “intelligence” right on the detector by combining different semiconductor technologies for signal generation and processing in one piece of silicon. With these technologies, we see close collaboration with industry. The Silicon Photomultipliers originated from basic research, and now are the coming thing in many applications related to light detection, such as medical diagnostics. 3D Silicon technology is driven by the semiconductor industry to provide ever more powerful processors, and will very likely also transform the way we do tracking in our detectors.

Norman Graf from SLAC, quoting Daniel Burnham at TIPP11.

Pushing the limits of understanding in particle physics is not easy: As experiments, in particular at the energy frontier of particle physics, get more and more complex and more expensive, the time scales get longer. And funding is increasingly uncertain. In his talk about the SiD detector, one of the two detector concepts being developed for the International Linear Collider, Norman Graf nicely showed it in his final slide: We have to think big and make daring plans for the future, to go further in unravelling the secrets of our universe.

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