November 12, 2013
It may sound like chasing rainbows: Detecting flashes of light and energy that are invisible to the human eye and last only for a trillionth of an eye-blink. These flashes, in the form of X-rays, gamma rays and other wavelengths, hold clues to the nature of exotic subatomic particles, important biological proteins and massive space objects alike.
To reveal new details about science at these extremes, a small team of scientists in SLAC’s Integrated Circuits Department is designing intricate signal-processing chips known as application-specific integrated circuits [ASICs]. The chips translate signals picked up by sensors into bits of data for analysis. ASICs and sensors are at the core of complex detector systems in development at SLAC.
Four ePix100 prototype chips bonded in a test setup. (Brad Plummer/SLAC)
Much of the group’s latest work is focused on building custom chips for new X-ray detectors at the Linac Coherent Light Source, a unique laser that fires X-ray pulses at a rate of up to 120 pulses a second.
Unlike the multifunction chips at the core of desktop computers, SLAC’s ASICs are designed for specific roles, such as counting light particles at a rapid rate. The circuits must be reliable and withstand prolonged exposure to extreme environments, such as intense X-ray light.
Some of the group’s latest circuits are sensitive enough to capture information from one particle of light, or photon, and powerful enough to simultaneously process signals from hundreds or thousands of photons.
The chips are coupled directly to sensors, with hundreds to thousands of channels that correspond to locations on the detector array. Together they function as an ultrafast, high-resolution camera.
“We need to push forward and increase the speed of these detectors while keeping the remarkable resolution and sensitivity of the present designs,” said Angelo Dragone, who leads the Integrated Circuits Department in SLAC’s Research Electronics and Software Division.
See the full article here.
SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.
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