January 2013

Advanced 3D Detectors for Research

Gamma-ray detectors built with silicon photomultiplier arrays provide high-resolution 3D imaging for research.

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Image courtesy of Jefferson Lab

Silicon photomultiplier array.

The Office of Nuclear Physics funds a community of scientists to do basic nuclear physics research that seeks to uncover the fundamental nature of matter. As a consequence of this basic research, many ideas and instruments (funded through various sources) have found their way into many different areas in public life as well as in other government programs. This highlight is an example of such a "spinoff".

The Science

Jefferson Lab researchers are optimizing new silicon photomultiplier detector technology that has the potential to a wide range of detector-based research. This technology offers detection capabilities similar to that obtained with vacuum photomultiplier tubes, but with high-resolution 3D imaging in a highly compact, inexpensive, low voltage and magnetic field-immune form.

The Impact

Silicon photomultiplier detector arrays have many potential uses in nuclear physics, biomedical and bio-environmental research. For instance, the technology will enable the study of the force that binds the particles of matter together at the subatomic scale at Jefferson Lab. When molded into a compact, hand-held device, the technology also offers surgeons the potential to detect hidden cancer tumors during surgery.


Silicon photomultipliers (SiPMs) have grown rapidly in the past few years as the detector of choice for highly compact photo-sensors with detection capabilities comparable to good vacuum tube-based photomultipliers. SiPMs are new, very sensitive light-measuring devices as small and compact as a computer chip. SiPMs have recently been applied to radiation detection applications because of continuing improvements in radiation tolerance, dark noise reduction, timing and significant cost reduction. SiPMs also have the benefits of requiring low voltages for operation and offer immunity to magnetic fields. Jefferson Lab is optimizing the detectors for use in nuclear physics detector systems, such as in its newest experimental area, Hall D, where the detectors are needed for studies of the strong-force "glue" that affects all visible matter in our universe. In another example, a positron-emission tomography system with 3D gamma-ray detection capabilities provided by SiPM arrays could also provide higher volumetric resolution after 3D tomographic reconstruction by eliminating parallax error, giving SiPM arrays tremendous potential as photo-sensors for biomedical applications. For instance, a round, hand-held camera built of SiPMs was designed as an imaging aid for tumors during cancer surgeries.


Andrew Weisenberger
Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility


This work is supported in part by the DOE Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research and Nuclear Physics programs under contract no. DE-AC05-06OR23177.


Y. Qiang et al., "Radiation Hardness Tests of SiPMs for the JLab Hall D Barrel Calorimeter." Nuclear Instruments and Methods, A698, 234 (2013) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nima.2012.10.015External link.

F. Barbosa et al., "Silicon photomultiplier characterization for the GlueX barrel calorimeter." Nuclear Instruments and Methods, A695, 100 (2012) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nima.2011.11.059External link.

Highlight Categories

Program: BER, NP

Performer/Facility: SC User Facilities, NP User Facilities, CEBAF

Additional: Technology Impact

Last modified: 11/19/2015 9:13:19 AM