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

Technologies developed in an EU-funded job for superior-vitality physics experiments also has the potential to significantly increase the sensitivity of PET scanners for clinical imaging.

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When the Higgs boson was found out in 2012, Paul Lecoq was a single of the physicists who made it achievable. Now, as principal investigator in the EU-funded TICAL job, he has been applying his skills in making particle detectors to issues concerning clinical imaging.

‘From the quite commencing, I experienced the instinct that the know-how I was proposing to boost the effectiveness of our particle physics detectors would have a robust influence in clinical physics,’ he claims.

Till not too long ago, Lecoq worked at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, as specialized coordinator for a single of the detectors for the Big Hadron Collider. Recognized as a ‘calorimeter’, the detector employs dense crystalline blocks, named scintillators, to catch particles as they move as a result of. The vitality of the particle seems as flash of light-weight which is picked up by delicate photodetectors.

In apply, a superior-vitality particle will generate a shower of other particles in the scintillator but the reaction of the scintillator is just much too gradual to document the complexity of the shower.


With funding for the TICAL job from the European Study Council, Lecoq established out to devise a new form of scintillator that could more specifically document the place and timing of occasions inside the shower. ‘What I want is a reconstruction of the spatial progress of the shower and also the time – I want to know the dynamics of it.’

His resolution was to use nanocrystals – little crystals of scintillator material that are tiny sufficient for quantum consequences to dominate and for a captured particle to emit a a great deal sharper flash of light-weight. By sandwiching slim levels of nanocrystals amongst sheets of common scintillator, Lecoq’s ‘meta-scintillator’ permits the particle shower to be tracked more properly.

Meta-scintillators could significantly boost the particle detectors at CERN – but that is not the complete story.

For many yrs, Lecoq focused on PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scanners, the imaging devices applied to probe the interior of the human overall body, especially for most cancers analysis. They count on detecting gamma rays employing a great deal the very same ideas 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 Big Hadron Collider, is almost nothing but a gigantic PET scanner,’ he jokes.

10 picosecond challenge

At existing, the best PET scanners can time the arrival of a gamma ray to far better than five hundred picoseconds. With the TICAL meta-scintillators in the long run capable of a precision of ten picoseconds – 50 moments far better – Lecoq envisages foreseeable future PET scanners in a position to generate a great deal sharper images. They would also have to have a great deal much less radioactive material and perhaps have broader applications in medication.

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

TICAL completed at the finish of 2018 but Lecoq, retired from CERN, is now co-CEO of Multiwave Metacrystal, a enterprise established to commercialise the operate of the job. It is placing up a laboratory in collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Valencia to produce meta-scintillators. In the beginning, they would be for PET scanners though they also have potential for other industrial and protection applications.

Lecoq sees the job as a classic case in point of how European funding can allow ‘a wholly crazy idea’ to mature to the issue exactly where it can be commercialised for the good of society. ‘For me, the ERC grant was excellent. The European Commission has truly performed the part it should enjoy.’