June 23, 2024


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

Technological innovation formulated in an EU-funded task for significant-electricity physics experiments also has the likely to considerably increase the sensitivity of PET scanners for clinical imaging.


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When the Higgs boson was learned in 2012, Paul Lecoq was a person of the physicists who designed it achievable. Now, as principal investigator in the EU-funded TICAL task, he has been making use of his abilities in developing particle detectors to challenges concerning clinical imaging.

‘From the very starting, I had the intuition that the technological innovation I was proposing to enhance the functionality of our particle physics detectors would have a strong effect in clinical physics,’ he claims.

Right until lately, Lecoq worked at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, as specialized coordinator for a person of the detectors for the Significant Hadron Collider. Recognized as a ‘calorimeter’, the detector makes use of dense crystalline blocks, identified as scintillators, to catch particles as they move by. The electricity of the particle seems as flash of gentle which is picked up by sensitive photodetectors.

In practice, a significant-electricity particle will generate a shower of other particles in the scintillator but the reaction of the scintillator is just too gradual to report the complexity of the shower.


With funding for the TICAL task from the European Investigation Council, Lecoq set out to devise a new form of scintillator that could a lot more specifically report the position and timing of activities inside the shower. ‘What I want is a reconstruction of the spatial development of the shower and also the time – I want to know the dynamics of it.’

His solution was to use nanocrystals – small crystals of scintillator materials that are small more than enough for quantum outcomes to dominate and for a captured particle to emit a much sharper flash of gentle. By sandwiching thin levels of nanocrystals involving sheets of common scintillator, Lecoq’s ‘meta-scintillator’ permits the particle shower to be tracked a lot more correctly.

Meta-scintillators could considerably enhance the particle detectors at CERN – but that is not the full tale.

For numerous decades, Lecoq focused on PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scanners, the imaging equipment applied to probe the interior of the human physique, specifically for cancer diagnosis. They rely on detecting gamma rays making use of much the same concepts as CERN’s particle detectors.

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

Ten picosecond problem

At current, the best PET scanners can time the arrival of a gamma ray to far better than 500 picoseconds. With the TICAL meta-scintillators finally capable of a precision of ten picoseconds – 50 instances far better – Lecoq envisages upcoming PET scanners equipped to generate much sharper pictures. They would also involve much a lot less radioactive materials and possibly have wider purposes in medicine.

Lecoq is presently trying to get sponsors for a ‘Ten picosecond challenge’ to design and build gamma-ray detectors for PET purposes capable of this higher time resolution.

TICAL concluded at the conclusion of 2018 but Lecoq, retired from CERN, is now co-CEO of Multiwave Metacrystal, a company designed to commercialise the work of the task. It is placing up a laboratory in collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Valencia to establish meta-scintillators. In the beginning, they would be for PET scanners although they also have likely for other industrial and safety purposes.

Lecoq sees the task as a classic example of how European funding can let ‘a entirely insane idea’ to experienced to the stage wherever it can be commercialised for the fantastic of society. ‘For me, the ERC grant was superb. The European Commission has really performed the role it really should participate in.’