October 19, 2021

UK signs up to support completion of the ultimate gamma-ray detector

UK scientists are playing a key role in the final stages of the development of a ground-breaking detector designed to solve the most fundamental questions in nuclear physics, such as the origin of the elements in our universe.

UK signs up to support completion of the ultimate gamma-ray detector

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to fund and support the completion of the Advanced Gamma Tracking Array (AGATA).

AGATA is a major international project, involving over 40 institutions from 12 European countries, to construct and operate the ultimate gamma ray tracking spectrometer that is a thousand times more sensitive than any previous detector system. It will produce the most valuable insights yet into the structure of atomic nuclei, with potential applications in many areas, from medical imaging to monitoring the environment.

From space to spectrometer

Atomic nuclei make up most of the visible matter in the Universe, including unstable nuclei produced by fusion in stars and stellar explosions, which can start to decay in a matter of seconds after forming, into a more stable state.

By understanding the structure of these unstable nuclei, we can learn why some are more stable than others, or have particular shapes and properties. It will also provide the deepest insights yet into how elements are created.

UK support for international science

Currently consisting of almost 60 high-purity germanium crystal detectors, this globe-shaped spectrometer will host 180 detectors once fully formed.

Under the new MoU, STFC will fund and support the continuing growth of AGATA towards its full completion. This includes an STFC grant to fund researchers from the Universities of Liverpool, West of Scotland, York and STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory to provide detector systems and optimise their performance.  The latter is required to analyse the vast and complex data that these detectors produce.

STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory completes major milestone

Meanwhile, scientists, engineers and technicians at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory, at Sci-Tech Daresbury in the Liverpool City Region, have recently completed the build of the specially designed mechanical structure that will hold, guide and support AGATA’s two and a half tonnes of highly fragile germanium detectors.

A major milestone for AGATA, this mechanical structure has now been transported to the Legnaro National Laboratory in Italy, where it will be installed and commissioned for its next experimental campaign.

Societal and economic impact

The social and economic benefits of AGATA are set to be far reaching, from improved medical imaging and diagnosis for the detection of disease and tumours, to portable radiation monitors for bomb detection and environmental monitoring of radioactive waste.

The University of York’s Professor Mike Bentley, Principal Investigator on the AGATA project, said: “This is a really exciting point in the path of the AGATA project. The signing of this agreement is a shining example of international cooperation in science, backed up by the government agencies that fund fundamental physics research across Europe. New accelerator facilities are being developed across Europe to expose the secrets of atomic nuclei, and AGATA will now play a crucial part in that quest over the next decade, and beyond.”

Further information about the AGATA collaboration at the AGATA website.