PHENIX rises: A detector gets a new life
For the first time, Fermilab technicians have completed design work for a 4000-ton particle detector over the phone.
“The benefit of our past experience allowed us to design through conference calls,” said Bert Gonzales, Fermilab technical supervisor on the design project. “This is a new endeavor. We’ve never assembled a project in this fashion. Usually we’ve had everything in-house.”
Scientists in the PHENIX collaboration at Brookhaven National Laboratory have enlisted the expertise of a group of technicians at Fermilab’s SiDet facility in upgrading their particle detector, originally constructed in 2000.
Technicians at SiDet, which is short for silicon detector, have in the past built components that track particles in the hearts of the CDF and DZero detectors at Fermilab’s Tevatron. The technicians also contributed a large number of components for the CMS silicon detector at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.
Originally Brookhaven planned to build new parts at academic institutions, said Columbia University physicist Dave Winter, who coordinates between Brookhaven and Fermilab in a portion of the design and production effort. But they were impressed by the extensive related experience technicians had at SiDet.
“Once we saw what was already at Fermilab, it was a no-brainer,” Winter said. “We’d be crazy to do it ourselves.”
The Pioneering High Energy Nuclear Interaction Experiment, or PHENIX, detector combs through the subatomic chaos produced by collisions at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or RHIC. Scientists at RHIC crash protons, gold nuclei, and the nuclei of a hydrogen isotope called deuterium together in an effort to recreate the conditions of the early universe.
Brookhaven scientists have collected evidence that the RHIC has created quark-gluon plasma, a state of matter in which quarks float unbound from one another. Scientists theorize that quarks behaved this way in the split second after the big bang.
They hope that by upgrading the PHENIX detector, they can better measure the number of beauty and charm quarks created in collisions. Fermilab scientists will design additional components that will extend the detector closer to the beam, zooming in on the collision point. Quark-gluon plasma tends to suppress the particles into which quarks decay. So in order to find out whether a particle collision created quarks, scientists must look for those particles as close to the collision point as possible.
Fermilab technicians will begin production of parts for the PHENIX detector this month. Engineers in Fermilab's Particle Physics Department are also designing, producing, and testing the readout chips needed for the upgrade.
Fermilab’s involvement goes deeper than doing work-for-hire, said Fermilab scientist Hogan Nguyen. “We feel as though we are part of the project; we want it to be successful.”