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NEWS-G’s newest detector (hint: it is not a sphere!)

Below former Queen’s University Undergraduate student and current University of Alberta MSc student Carter Garrah introduces NEWS-G’s latest (non-spherical) detector.

Introducing NEWS-G’s latest (non-spherical) detector: a Micromegas-based muon telescope! 

Here is the telescope frame with two panels installed.

At the end of 2019, the NEWS-G team at Queen’s University received four Micromegas (MICRO MEsh Gaseous Structure) muon detectors/trackers from CEA Paris-Saclay to be used for our own custom-designed muon telescope. 

Close-up of one of the Mircromegas muon detector/tracker panels.

These square gaseous detectors are capable of detecting cosmic-ray muons over a 50 by 50 centimetre area. When muons ionize the gas molecules within these detectors, an intense electric field over a roughly 100 micrometre thick layer amplifies the corresponding charge signal. This signal can then be mapped to a spatial location on the detector up to a resolution of a few hundred micrometres.

At Saclay, Micromegas were used for the WatTo experiment as part of a muon telescope built for performing muon tomography (aka muography). This imaging technique is performed in the same way as with medicinal CT (computed tomography) scans, but instead of using X-rays, muography uses naturally occurring cosmic-ray muons. By aiming the telescope upwards at a target, a 2-D density image can be reconstructed based upon the number and spatial location of muons which pass through the telescope’s Micromegas detectors. This imaging technique has huge potential in the fields of geology and earth sciences, as well as archeology. Later designs of the WatTo telescope were even used as a part of the fascinating ScanPyramids mission in Cairo, Egypt during 2015 – 2017. Here, muography was used to identify a previously hidden chamber within the Great Pyramid of Giza!

All four panels are now installed and we are nearing the final configuration of the telescope. The SPC will be sandwiched between the Micromegas detector/trackers, with two on either side.

At Queen’s University, it is the goal of NEWS-G to use muography to study the behaviour of muons within our SPC detectors. Over the past half-year, as an undergraduate and summer student I have designed and built the near-complete NEWS-G telescope. This massive 210cm (6.9 feet) tall structure uses a rotatable frame to allow pairs of Micromegas trackers to be placed on either side of the Queen’s lab’s S130 prototype SPC (spherical proportional counter). Once operational, the telescope will be able to record any muons which pass through it and the S130, allowing for new studies into the SPC response to cosmic-ray muons.  

Currently, the telescope is going through final structural modifications and testing of its electronics and gas-circulation system before it can be used with the big sphere. Preparations are also being made for a smaller version of the rotatable frame to be used for studies with smaller SPC prototypes at Queen’s. It is also the hope of the team that once the muon-related studies with SPCs are complete that this telescope can be used for future applications beyond fundamental physics, including geological studies. 

Daniel Durnford wins presentation award at the Canadian Association for Physics (CAP)

NEWS-G collaborator and PhD candidate Daniel Durnford (University of Alberta) won first place for best oral presentation by a student within the Particle Physics Division at the (online) 2020 Canadian Association of Physics (CAP) conference. The conference was held by video teleconferencing and was well attended, providing a much-needed moment of connection for a community that looks forward to this annual reunion of physicists.

Daniel’s talk was about the recent dark matter campaign with methane gas at the Laboratoire Souterrain de Modane (LSM) and the ongoing calibration and analysis efforts.

Daniel was also a finalist for the best overall student presentation at the conference.

Congratulations Daniel, and thank you for all your hard work on NEWS-G!

Masked researchers return to the laboratory

The bulk of NEWS-G activities have been conducted off-site and online since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March and the resultant closure of the Queen’s University laboratory. The installation of the detector at SNOLAB (originally planned for the spring of 2020) has likewise been stalled. Throughout recent months NEWS-G researchers have been diligently working on data analysis and simulations, albeit remotely.

Recently, however, up to two researchers at one time have been permitted back into the laboratory to recommence site-specific projects. Laboratory researchers must follow strict health and safety protocols as they run experiments to improve the understanding of the detector that will be installed at SNOLAB.

Postdoctoral fellows Alexis Brossard (left) and Jean-François Caron (right) wearing protective masks in the NEWS-G laboratory.
Summer student Carter Garrah working in the machine shop on an exciting project – details to come soon!

The team is also making excellent use of this time by preparing and testing new detectors for future experiments in particle accelerators.

Stay safe, stay healthy everyone.

8th NEWS-G Collaboration Meeting

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Special thanks to Dr. Gilles Gerbier for compiling this collaboration meeting ‘photo’.

The 8th NEWS-G collaboration meeting was hosted online June 1st to 3rd, 2020. Collaboration members from Canada, the United States and across Europe met to present pertinent results, exchange ideas and gather momentum for NEWS-G’s future endeavours. Originally scheduled for Birmingham, UK, the collaboration leaders quickly recalibrated and organized a virtual meeting when it became clear that international travel was not an option owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thank you to everyone who organized, presented and participated, and we look forward to seeing you in person, hopefully soon.

 

Queen’s University NEWS-G Summer Students

In late April Queen’s faculty Gilles Gerbier, Ryan Martin and Guillaume Giroux welcomed four new Queen’s undergraduate student summer researchers to the NEWS-G collaboration.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and current social distancing protocols their internship experience is, thus far, quite different from previous summers. Rather than working and learning in close quarters with their peers inside the NEWS-G campus laboratory, the students are working on their summer research projects from home. Despite the physical distance, the group remains united through frequent online video conferencing, be it for training seminars, progress meetings or simply socializing.

Directly supervising the summer students is lead scientist Philippe Gros, with postdoctoral fellows Alexis Brossard and Jean-Francois Caron assisting with training and mentoring, with graduate students Marie Vidal (PhD), Francisco Fernandez (PhD), George Savvidis (PhD) and Jean-Marie Coquillat (MSc) helping to acclimatize and orient the newest members.

Queen’s NEWS-G is also fortunate to have former students Carter Garrah and Douglas Gowing rejoin the collaboration this summer.

A very warm welcome to Ashley Micuda, Clara Mitchinson, Csaba Nemeth, and Frankie Polak. Below you can learn a bit about our newest collaboration members.


Ashley Micuda

I will soon be a third year Physics major at Queen’s University. I was initially attracted to doing research on dark matter this summer because I believed it would be a great opportunity to work with amazing scientists and get hands-on experience of what it’s like to do research while stimulating my passion for physics. Next year I will have the opportunity to apply what I have learned this summer towards my undergraduate education in Physics at Queen’s. Once graduated I plan to undertake a masters degree in Physics. This summer I am working from my hometown, Oakville, ON, where I have been keeping busy by playing sports and working out, as well as taking an online summer course to get ahead in school.

Clara Mitchinson

I just finished my first year of Engineering and will be going into Engineering Physics, specializing in Computing, next year. I first heard about SNOLAB when I was in high school and it’s been my goal to work there ever since. I’ve always been interested in science, especially space and physics. I applied for this internship because I wanted to increase my understanding of physics and programming outside of school. This summer I’m working from Oakville and when I’m not working, I’m probably going for a long walk to keep my surroundings interesting during social isolation.

Csaba Nemeth

I just completed my second year of Engineering Physics at Queen’s University, in the computing option. I had the great opportunity to tour the SNOLAB facilities last year and I was instantly intrigued and curious about all the experiments. Dark matter is fascinating because it stretches from the unthinkably small scale to governing the physics of the entire universe; hopefully I can wrap my head around these concepts in the coming months. The kind people at NEWS-G have been instrumental in fostering my interest about dark matter, and I am sure as the summer progresses this will continue. I am currently working from Kingston, and busying my time with cooking, reading, and catching up on a long list of recommended movies. 

Frankie Polak

I am a Physics major at Queen’s and I recently completed my third year. My dream is to become a physics professor, and I joined NEWS-G in order to gain dark matter research experience. Right now I’m working at my parents’ house in Ajax, Ontario, but I hope to be back at Queen’s by January. To pass the time at home, I’ve been reading a lot, knitting socks, and playing with my pet rats, Simon and Garfunkel.

NEWS-G Progress at SNOLAB

On January 28th, 2020, NEWS-G collaborators from Kingston (Queen’s University) and Edmonton (University of Alberta) connected in Sudbury, Ontario to prepare for the installation of the detector at SNOLAB. Components of the detector were cleaned and prepared for the journey underground, installation logistics were reviewed and finalized, and the graduate students, along with Dr. Gilles Gerbier, received important health and safety training to allow them to work in the mine over the coming months.

Below PhD Candidate Marie Vidal narrates photographs taken onsite, beginning with the (above-ground) cleaning process.

Each component of the detector has to be cleaned and re-packaged before being shipped underground. Here you can see small pieces of lead that will later be assembled into the detector’s shield.

The glove box is a very important component of the detector. Just as with everything else, it too needs a thorough cleaning before it can go down into the lab.


Our task force team: on the right (1st table) you can see us cleaning the lead pieces with a solvent and in the background (2nd table) we are drying and wrapping the pieces so that they remain dust-free.


More cleaning and wrapping detector parts in plastic.
Foreground: George Savvidis (PhD student, Queen’s University) Background: Alexis Brossard (Postdoctoral Fellow, Queen’s University)


We received extensive training which taught us how to move safely through the Vale-owned mine in order to access SNOLAB. We also received on-site health and safety and emergency preparedness training within SNOLAB.

On January 29th our mine training began at 6:00 am. After 1.5 hours of above-ground training, we took the ‘cage’ down into the mine. The cage took us 2 km underground, and then we walked over a kilometer, stopping to inspect every safety station, until we reached SNOLAB. The mine is hot, humid and the pressure is 30% higher than at the surface of the Earth, making work underground even more tiring.


Holding their lunches in black bags and awaiting their descent into the mine.
Left to right in yellow: Marie Vidal (PhD Candidate, Queen’s University), Dan Durnford (PhD Student, University of Alberta) and Jean-Marie Coquillat (MA Student, Queen’s University)

Left to right: Alexis Brossard, Dan Durnford, Jean-Marie Coquillat,
Gilles Gerbier, Marie Vidal and George Savvidis

Just steps away from the entrance to SNOLAB. Everyone must shower and change their clothing before they can enter further.


Postdoctoral fellows and graduate students in front of the NEWS-G sphere
Left to right: Alexis Brossard, Marie Vidal, Jean-Marie Coquillat, Dan Durnford and George Savvidis

After a tour of some of the other physics experiments at SNOLAB (SuperCDMS/CUTE, SNO+, DEAP) we were able to finally lay eyes on the site where our experiment, NEWS-G, will be constructed.

All in all it was a great and productive trip!