Giving particle detectors a boost | Science & Technology

Device could help facilitate the operation of new particle colliders, such as the Electron-Ion Collider.

In particle colliders that reveal the hidden secrets of the tiniest constituents of our universe, minute particles leave behind extremely faint electrical traces when they are generated in enormous collisions. Some detectors in these facilities use superconductivity — a phenomenon in which electricity is carried with zero resistance at low temperatures — to function.

For scientists to more accurately observe the behavior of these particles, these weak electrical signals, or currents, need to be multiplied by an instrument capable of turning a faint electrical flicker into a real jolt.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new device that acts as a “current multiplier.” This device, called a nanocryotron, is a prototype for a mechanism that could turn up a particle’s electrical signal high enough to a level where it temporarily turns off the superconductivity of the material, essentially creating a kind of on-off switch.

“We’re taking a small signal and using it to trigger an electric cascade,” said Tomas Polakovic, one of Argonne’s Maria Goeppert Mayer Fellows and an author of the study. “We’re going to funnel the very small current of these detectors into the switching device, which can be then used to switch a much bigger current.”

To prepare the nanocryotron for a collider experiment will take some more work because of the high magnetic fields involved. While today’s particle detectors can withstand magnetic fields of several tesla in strength, this switch’s performance degrades in high magnetic fields.

“Finding ways to make the device work in higher magnetic fields is key to incorporating it into a real experiment,” said Argonne graduate research assistant Timothy Draher, another author of the study.

To make this possible, the researchers plan to change the geometry of the material and…

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