Saturday, 7 July 2018

IEEE NPSS International School for Real Time Systems in Particle Physics 2018

On Saturday July 7th we kicked off the IEEE NPSS International School for Real Time Systems in Particle Physics 2018. The school is co-sponsodred by the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society and the South Africa - CERN consortium and it is held at iThemba LABS in the Western Cape 7th-17th 2018. 

Its intention is to give practical experience with developing and controlling mid-range real time experiments. Hands-on experience is very important. The school provides lectures and laboratory exercises, given by experts in radiation measurements with state-of-the-art experience. The lectures introduce firmware, software and web based programming (for remote control), and show how this can be used in different areas of science. In order to minimize the hardware cost Raspberry Pis are used as controllers. This should be an advantage when the students later develop their own systems. The Raspberry Pi operating system is similar to Linux which means that it supports many of the standard Data Acquisition software tools.

The goal of the school is:
  • To train students in the area of radiation detectors and its applications.
  • To enhance the development of real-time system in South Africa.
  • To promote the participation of young scientists in radiation measurements and related fields.


The lectures will cover the following areas:
  • The history of detectors
  • Introduction to radiation instrumentation detectors
  • Programmable logic - FPGAs
  • Introduction to readout, trigger and control architectures
  • From resistor to high energy physics experiments
  • High speed signals, impedances, reflections and grounding
  • Waveform digitizing and signal processing
  • Photo, Geiger and silicon detectors
  • Introduction to networks
  • Unix shell basics
  • Introduction to the RCDAQ data acquisition system 
  • Real-time data visualization and control using modern web technologies
  • Signal levels and bus standards
  • Raspberry Pi
  • HEP detectors – overview and examples
  • Instrumentation for harsh and severe environments
  • Application of fundamental physics in medicine
  • Detectors for astrophysics
  • Writing papers and preparing presentations – some hints

Laboratory Exercises

The exercises are of three types: first the two exercises on Thursday, second the four exercises on Friday and Saturday and last the voluntary FPGA workshop on Sunday July 8th. The two exercises on Thursday will be given parallel with half the students in each group, switching after lunch. Similarly, the four parallel half day exercises on Friday and Saturday will each be given to one quarter of the student group, again switching after lunch. This will allow all of the students to participate in all of the exercises.

Sunday July 8th 08:30-16:30
  • FPGA workshop: Practical exercises in FPGA programming (only about 20 students)

Thursday July 12th half day exercises
  • Raspberry Pi/RCDAQ: Practical exercises with a Raspberry Pi, the operating system Raspbian (Linux derivative) and a complete data acquisition program (RCDAQ).
  • Control using modern Web technologies: Practical exercises developing an experiment control server using a Raspberry Pi that can be accessed via a web browser.

Friday July 13th and Saturday July 14th half day exercises 
  • HVcontrol: Use a Raspberry Pi and a dedicated HV-board to generate the high voltage for a Photo Multiplier Tube connected to a scintillator. This set-up is then used to record gamma radiation from different sources.
  • Waveform capture: Add a waveform capture module to the HV-control set-up to analyze pulse shapes and start time. Use a two PMT/scintillator configuration to extract position information
  • PET demonstrator: Exercises with a demonstration system for detectors and for the principles of Positron Emission Tomography
  • TimePix: Exercises with a silicon detector development board

IEEE NPSS and South African research agencies considers Women In Engineering an important initiative that should be strongly promoted. A special WIE event is scheduled for the afternoon and evening Wednesday July 11th.

The following are the lecturers:
  • Abdallah Lyoussi, CEA Cadarache, France
  • Bruce Mellado, Wits University, iThemba LABS, SA
  • Christian Bohm, Stockholm University, Sweden
  • Cinzia Da Via, Manchester University, UK
  • Martin Grossmann, PSI, Switzerland
  • Martin Purschke, BNL, USA
  • Masaharu Nomachi, Osaka University, Japan
  • Michael Holik, IEAP CTU, Czech Republic
  • Patrick Le Du, IPN Lyon, France
  • Stefan Ritt, PSI, Switzerland
  • Vladimir Vicha, IEAP CTU, Czech Republic
  • Zhen-An Liu, HEP, China

After a rigorous selection process 50 students were selected to attend the school. 

More info can be found at:

A site of the School is also available at the Czech Technical University in Prague:

Below some pictures:

This is a picture taken on Saturday July 7th of participants present during the school's opening (courtesy of Dr. S. Ritt).

On Sunday, July 8th we had our first hands on exercises using Field Programable Field Arrays (FPGA). Exercises were led by Masaharu Nomachi and Zhen-An Liu and were preceded by a lecture with a detailed account of what going to be covered during the practical session. 

Below is a picture of the Key module used for the FPGA exercises. 

The Key module comprises a NIM IO module with LEMO connectors, a Space Pi (FPGA) module and a Raspberry Pi. The Key module is connected to a terminal and  an oscilloscope. 

Students went through six exercises. This includes programming FPGAs, comminicating and sending data from an FPGA to a Raspberry Pi, learning to operations with a Raspberry Pi, operating an oscilloscope and measuring time with the available setup.

Great atmosphere where most of the students were able to conclude the program. Some students have shown interest to continue practicing with the setup on Monday and Tuesday after dinner time for which necessary arrangements have been made.

Some enthusiastic students working on the FPGA exercises on Monday after dinner

Raspberry Pis being prepared for the exercises that took place Thursday-Saturday:

The Director of iThemba LABS,  Dr. Faiçal Azaiez came to the lecture venue to greet participants on Monday.

Below are pictures of lecturers in action.  

Below are pictures of the hands-on exercises that took place Thursday-Saturday:

Below is a picture of an EasyPet unit, which is manufactured by CAEN.  For this exercise we used a radioactive source of Na22, a Beta+emitter that provides gamma radiation. These sources were produced by iThemba LABS with an activity of approximately 12 mCi and were sealed in the shape of plastic disks. As an additional precaution keep the sources in plastic zip bags most of the time. Please handle the sources with caution and follow safety rules. 

Four EasyPet units were setup and interfaces with laptop computers. A number of exercises were followed. This included settig up the device, investigating SiPM (silicon photo-multiplier) characteristics with a voltage scan, observing single pulses, identifying the multi-photon spectrum, gamma coincidences and PET imaging. 

Also, having fun (courtesy of Dr. Martin Purschke):

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