Towards the High Luminosity Large Hadron Collider Run 3 Period (2021-2023)
The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN), founded in 1954 and located on the Franco-Swiss border, is a large organisation made up of twenty three member states. Its purpose is to study the fundamental building blocks of matter. CERN’s flagship project is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is the largest scientific instrument ever constructed.
The LHC is a sophisticated circular particle accelerator and collider, with a circumference of almost 27 km. Two beams are circulated in opposite directions, and are collided together at various points, known as experiments. One of these experiments is referred to as A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE). ALICE is a general-purpose heavy-ion detector at the CERN LHC dedicated to the study and characterisation of Quark Gluon Plasma at extremely high energy density and temperature conditions. For this reason, ALICE consists of a number of detectors dedicated to performing particle identification in a wide momentum range through the combination of different detector techniques and technologies. The High Momentum Particle Identification Detector (HMPID) is one such detector.
Thanks to the contributions of the Department of Microelectronics & Nanoelectronics and the Department of Physics at the University of Malta in the ALICE-HMPID project, the detector is now progressing successfully towards the High Luminosity LHC Run 3 period (2021-2023). With highly qualified interventions, the Department of Microelectronics & Nanoelectronics has designed the trigger electronics and upgraded the firmware, in order to improve the event read out rate at the HMPID by a factor of 5.
The larger event statistics will open new opportunities for the study of rare phenomena in the ultra-relativistic heavy-ion physics. In particular, over the past years a number of research projects were undertaken by both M.Sc. and Ph.D. students within the Department of Microelectronics & Nanoelectronics. Inġ. Jordan Lee Gauci, as part of his doctoral studies, worked on the design, implementation, and testing of a novel remotely configurable delay generator which features a delay range of at 400 ns with a resolution of 2 ns.
Following, the work carried out by Stefano Calleja (M.Sc. alumni in Microelectronics and Microsystems), Inġ. Gauci was also highly involved in the upgrade of the firmware of the readout electronics in order to handle the new triggering requirements. His work was aided by the tool developed by Josef Magri as part of his M.Sc. studies in Microelectronics and Microsystems. In particular, Magri worked on the design and implementation of a high-level test bench for high-speed multi-FPGA pipelines, to model and simulate architectures that gather and process large amounts of data. The test bench was successfully employed in the ALICE nuclear particle detector system.
Such development of micro and nanoscale technology and the consequent design of integrated circuits underpins the continuous rapid development in ICT and its relevance to both the scientific community and the discovery of new physical phenomena.