Particle physicist turns his hand t… – Information Centre – Research & Innovation

Technological know-how formulated in an EU-funded venture for superior-strength physics experiments also has the prospective to enormously improve the sensitivity of PET scanners for health care imaging.


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When the Higgs boson was uncovered in 2012, Paul Lecoq was a person of the physicists who created it probable. Now, as principal investigator in the EU-funded TICAL venture, he has been making use of his skills in building particle detectors to challenges relating to health care imaging.

‘From the really starting, I experienced the instinct that the technology I was proposing to increase the efficiency of our particle physics detectors would have a strong effects in health care physics,’ he claims.

Until not long ago, Lecoq labored at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, as technological coordinator for a person of the detectors for the Substantial Hadron Collider. Acknowledged as a ‘calorimeter’, the detector utilizes dense crystalline blocks, named scintillators, to capture particles as they move by means of. The strength of the particle appears as flash of light which is picked up by delicate photodetectors.

In apply, a superior-strength particle will create a shower of other particles in the scintillator but the response of the scintillator is just way too gradual to file the complexity of the shower.

Nanocrystals

With funding for the TICAL venture from the European Study Council, Lecoq established out to devise a new variety of scintillator that could far more precisely file the placement and timing of activities inside the shower. ‘What I want is a reconstruction of the spatial advancement of the shower and also the time – I want to know the dynamics of it.’

His option was to use nanocrystals – tiny crystals of scintillator content that are modest more than enough for quantum results to dominate and for a captured particle to emit a a lot sharper flash of light. By sandwiching thin layers of nanocrystals amongst sheets of traditional scintillator, Lecoq’s ‘meta-scintillator’ lets the particle shower to be tracked far more correctly.

Meta-scintillators could enormously increase the particle detectors at CERN – but that is not the total story.

For quite a few several years, Lecoq concentrated on PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scanners, the imaging equipment used to probe the inside of the human physique, particularly for most cancers prognosis. They count on detecting gamma rays employing a lot the similar ideas as CERN’s particle detectors.

‘I used to say that the a hundred-tonne calorimeter, the building of which I was liable for at the Substantial Hadron Collider, is nothing at all but a gigantic PET scanner,’ he jokes.

10 picosecond problem

At existing, the very best PET scanners can time the arrival of a gamma ray to better than 500 picoseconds. With the TICAL meta-scintillators ultimately capable of a precision of 10 picoseconds – 50 situations better – Lecoq envisages long run PET scanners capable to create a lot sharper photos. They would also need a lot considerably less radioactive content and possibly have wider apps in medication.

Lecoq is presently in search of sponsors for a ‘Ten picosecond challenge’ to style and construct gamma-ray detectors for PET apps capable of this better time resolution.

TICAL concluded at the conclusion of 2018 but Lecoq, retired from CERN, is now co-CEO of Multiwave Metacrystal, a organization established to commercialise the do the job of the venture. It is location up a laboratory in collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Valencia to produce meta-scintillators. At first, they would be for PET scanners although they also have prospective for other industrial and stability apps.

Lecoq sees the venture as a classic example of how European funding can enable ‘a completely ridiculous idea’ to experienced to the place wherever it can be commercialised for the fantastic of culture. ‘For me, the ERC grant was superb. The European Fee has truly performed the job it need to play.’