From wireless medical imaging devices to a camera for a telescope, an EU-funded cross-disciplinary network of physicists and engineers has advanced pioneering signal and data processing solutions while training the next generation of researchers in frontier areas of fundamental and applied science.
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The network, INFIERI, addressed the large and growing challenge of dealing with vast amounts of data from sources in fields as diverse as particle physics, telecommunications, medical imaging and astrophysics.
The work has led to ongoing international cooperation between industry and academia to bridge the gap between frontier research and cutting-edge industrial solutions.
“Astrophysics, particle physics, medical physics and telecommunications research share the need to handle, visualise and interpret large amounts of data at very high rates, even in real time, from multiple distributed sources,” says network coordinator Aurore Savoy-Navarro of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France. “This is the case with arrays of digital devices that are assembled to form a medical imaging instrument. It also applies to the large arrays of detectors spread over kilometres to form terrestrial telescopes.”
INFIERI researchers worked with data generated from particle physics experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, positron emission tomography signals used in medical applications, and information from the Cherenkov Telescope Array, the world’s largest ground-based observatory for gamma-ray astronomy comprised of more than 100 telescopes.
Teams at the University Carlos Tercero in Spain and the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Italy, for example, developed a high-speed optical wireless communications solution that eliminates the need for cables to connect medical imaging devices in clinics, resulting in a patented technology.
Other teams in Liverpool, Oxford and Leicester in the UK were instrumental in developing a camera for a prototype telescope of the Cherenkov Telescope Array, and in collecting and analysing images during tests over the past two years.
“These kinds of applications, though very different in size, scale and underlying technology, require extremely rapid front-end signal and data processing, event selection, efficient transmission and high-selectivity, covering the full-chain of data treatment from raw generation of the information to analysis to extract meaningful results,” Savoy-Navarro explains.
Training the next generation of scientists and engineers
The INFIERI researchers worked with cutting-edge hardware such as field-programmable gate array (FPGA) processors and application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC), types of computer chips that are capable of reconstructing and visualising events in real time.
They also conducted research into data treatment software and signal processing solutions based on compact 3D sub-micron technology, and developed novel systems for silicon photonics, among other technologies.
Comprising six leading academic institutes, three European laboratories and two companies Philips and THALES as full partners along with a number of associate partners in Europe, Asia and the US, INFIERI was able to give young scientists and engineers significant exposure and experience that will be helpful as they launch their careers.
The network hired 23 young researchers and engineers to participate in this cross-disciplinary programme, all of whom will go on to apply their knowledge in both the public and private sectors.
“Collaboration initiatives such as INFIERI are essential to ensure fundamental research projects lead to real-world applications,” Savoy-Navarro says. “This is especially the case in frontier areas of science.”
A summer school, initially hosted by some of the project partners in Europe, has since expanded to Latin America, with this year’s event held at the region’s largest physics campus at the University of São Paolo in Brazil. Next year’s is due to take place in China at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences and Peking University.
“The combination of the technologies addressed in INFIERI promises to deliver substantially improved performance in all application areas, while the trained individuals as well as the participants in the summer schools represent a highly valuable resource for industry and academic research in many areas of fundamental and applied physics,” Savoy-Navarro says.