UK scientists support completion of the ultimate gamma-ray detector

A major international project, constructing the ultimate gamma-ray detector, will resolve the most fundamental questions in nuclear physics.

UK scientists are performing a crucial role in the last stages of the advancement of a gamma-ray detector constructed to resolve the most important questions in nuclear physics, including the origin of the elements in our Universe.

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

AGATA is a massive international project concerning more than 40 institutions from 12 European countries. It will build and operate the ultimate gamma-ray tracking spectrometer that is a staggering one thousand times more sensitive than any prior detector system.

It will generate the most significant insights yet into the structure of atomic nuclei, with possible applications in a wide range of areas, from medical imaging to monitoring the environment.

From space to spectrometer

Atomic nuclei comprise the majority of the visible matter in the Universe such as unstable nuclei created by stellar explosions, which can decay in a matter of seconds after forming into a more stable state.

Advanced Gamma Tracking Array can travel to different nuclear research laboratories around Europe, allowing scientists to conduct experiments on extremely powerful beamlines. By accelerating particles and colliding them with stable elements, they can generate these elements and study their properties.

AGATA allows them to evaluate the gamma radiation radiated as they decay, with extraordinary precision and efficacy, delivering the greatest insights yet into how elements are produced.

UK support for international science

Presently comprising of nearly 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: University of Liverpool, University of West of Scotland, University of York and STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory.

It is to deliver and enhance the detector systems that will investigate the enormous amounts of complex data that are generated.

STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory completes major milestone

Meanwhile, scientists, engineers, and technicians at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory have recently finished the construction of the specifically 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 is being installed and commissioned for its next experimental campaign.

Societal and economic impact

The social and economic benefits of the Advanced Gamma Tracking Array are set to be far-reaching, such as enhanced medical imaging and diagnosis for the detection of disease and tumours, portable radiation monitors for bomb detection and environmental monitoring of radioactive waste.

Professor John Simpson of STFC’s Nuclear Physics Group, and Chairperson of the International Steering Group for AGATA, commented: “STFC’s new agreement and continued commitment to the AGATA project on behalf of the UK is an exciting next step on our journey to uncover the structure of matter and the secrets of our Universe.

“The completion of AGATA is a major element of the European long-range plan for nuclear science, and has the real potential to positively impact our economy and lives in so many ways.

“It is also a prime example of how UK expertise is supporting fundamental research on an international scale. Through continued STFC funding and support, I am very much looking forward to the next stage of this project, towards the completion AGATA.”

The University of York’s Professor Mike Bentley, Principal Investigator on the AGATA project, added: “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.”

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