Rafael Ballabriga works, since 2004, at the microelectronics section at CERN, mainly on projects related to the Medipix Collaborations —which are international multidisciplinary collaborations that bring CERN developed technologies to other fields of science like medical imaging, synchrotron studies or dosimetry in space among others—. He is also participating in projects on analog front-end design for HEP (like the LHCb VELOpix), monolithic active pixel sensors and Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) for the readout of the signals of fast radiation detectors. At IdeaSquare, he teamed up with students of the Challenge-Based Innovation Programme (CBI) to bring forward one of his research activities under the funding of the European ATTRACT project. He’s highly satisfied with the concept of IdeaSquare. He believes that the facility has a lot to offer when it comes to bringing real equipment closer to school students.
Rafael Ballabriga describes CBI as an “excellent initiative”, one that has generated very positive results. “In the framework of our Attract FastICPix project, we collaborated with a team of multidisciplinary students from Barcelona —from ESADE, UPC and the Istituto Europeo di Design— and they helped us find new applications for our technology”. “The students, under our guidance and their mentor Ramon Bragos, from UPC, they made an excellent job”, he resolves. “In November this year, our team will be doing some proof of concept measurements at the Chemistry Department at University of Oxford. We want to proof that our detector technology can bring value to the field of mass spectrometry. The contact in Oxford was established by the CBI students. This was an unforeseen experience that proved how students can complement the work of scientists.”
“IdeaSquare’s CBI students established some contacts that contributed enormously to the valorization of our project.”
In his opinion, IdeaSquare’s concept is very much in sync with “the CERN mandate to transfer knowledge to society.”
“In the education system in my natal region of Catalonia, when students reach the age of 16, they are required to work on a ‘research thesis’”, he explains, “I visited the secondary school where I studied, in Gava, close to Barcelona, and gave a seminar in which I demonstrated particle detection using a Timepix device. After my talk I proposed one of the science teachers to keep the detector and start creating educational contents for the students (at the time there were already other groups in the UK and in Czech Republic using Timepix on secondary education). Today 25 schools in the region are participating in a network where they share a few detectors and, from CERN we are distributing detectors to schools all over Europe in the framework of the Timepix Teachers Programme. The work that has been done by the students is impressive. To cite some examples, a student in Manlleu developed an alpha detector based on some schematics available from Oliver Keller, a colleague at the S’Cool lab at CERN, and calibrated the detector with Timepix. A student from my school in Gava designed an automated mechanical system controlled with Arduino to tilt the detector and study the angle of incidence of cosmic rays when they reach the Earth. Another one implemented an AI system to identify the patterns of energy deposited in the detector by different types of particles.” Rafael admits that, working on this project, he has realized that pre-university students can do “interesting contributions.”
“An environment like IdeaSquare is the perfect place to let the creativity of students flow. I really cherish anything that brings people to CERN to experiment with our existing technologies.”
It is important that students can use devices through which they can “visualize” radiation in the environment. CERN developed detectors, are a game changing tool to teach concepts like radiation, interaction of radiation with matter or the existence of different particle types.
“I am convinced that CERN technologies could and should be used to help both teachers and students to make science more comprehensible. The implication of scientists in the technology transfer and showing a role model for the younger generations is also very important.”
“I know of students who used our detectors for their research projects, and have later chosen university degrees in science because of this.”
Rafael Ballabriga is a Microelectronics Engineer at CERN. In 2004, he joined CERN microelectronics section, Geneva (Switzerland), in the framework of the CERN Doctoral Student Program to work in the design and characterization of hybrid pixel detectors. He has been at CERN’s Experimental Physics Department for almost 18 years. At CERN, he also coaches younger designers in the design of front-ends in CMOS technologies.
At IdeaSquare, he lead the FastICPix project funded by ATTRACT Phase I, a family of read-out chips for the readout of fast detectors with intrinsic amplification.