A crystal’s journey from creation to its place within the CMS electromagnetic calorimeter is an arduous one: its trials include travelling thousands of miles, being sawed and polished, as well as being heated to 1,165oC and cooled to 18oC.
The journey starts in either a disused military complex in Bogoroditsk, Russia, or the Shanghai Institute of Ceramics (SIC) in China. These two institutions together took on the job of producing the 78,000 crystals to stringent specifications. Crystals are grown around a tiny “seed” - an existing piece of the crystal with the required properties - from a 1,165oC melt of tungsten oxide, lead oxide and “doping” materials, small amounts of other materials that refine the crystals’ properties.
In the Russian method, the seed is pulled from the scalding mixture at a very slow, precise speed that allows the atoms of the melt to arrange into a crystal structure around it. “In 2 or 3 days you have your crystal, which may seem slow but it’s quick compared to geology,” explains Michel Lebeau, an engineer in the crystals team.
Dusting with diamond
But the raw form of the crystal still needs a makeover before it can become one of the sparkling gems we see in the experiment. First it must be cut, ground and polished with diamond. Diamond is the hardest naturally occurring material and can scratch or cut through other crystals, allowing them to be shaped.
A disc covered with fine diamond grains first cuts the crystals’ prismatic accurate shape from its original round form. The second stage, called lapping, involves grinding the rough sides of the crystal as if with diamond sandpaper - a sprayed diamond suspension coats a rotating table, similar to a potter’s wheel, and as the crystals pass over it their surfaces are sanded to a fine matte finish, the flatness of which is controlled to less than a fraction of the width of a human hair.
Finally, to replace the crystals’ cloudy surfaces with a transparent finish, they must now pass over an even finer suspension of diamond, as finer abrasive gives an even smoother surface. The grains used here are in fact so tiny that the polished surface pattern is smaller than the wavelength of light.
To ensure a perfect match with the neighbouring crystals, and to give accurate measures of particle energies, each crystal must comply with very accurate dimensions so that they react in exactly the same way to the light. To make sure of this, the machines that transform the crystals into their sleek final form must also be fine-tuned and precise. After extensive research and development, machines that could give these perfect finishes were designed, fabricated locally and finally shipped, installed and ran at production sites in Russia and China.
Into the detector
For the crystals arriving at the regional centres in CERN and Rome, the welcome was warm but testing was thorough, as each had to be vetted before becoming part of the detector.
The arriving crystals were first unpacked and identified with a barcode before a visual inspection checks for any visible defects. Finally they were registered into a database so they could be followed throughout production and their lifetime in CMS.
Then the dimensions, light transmission and scintillation properties of the crystals were measured, 30 at a time, in an automatic machine (ACCOS) developed in both regional centres. “Usually with a crystal, the beauty of it is that it is coloured. But in our case if crystals are coloured would mean defects and reduced performance,” explains Etiennette Auffray, leader of the crystal assembly at CERN. But in fact only a very small number (less than 1%) of the 1200 crystals processed every month proved unsuitable for use
The vast majority of crystals made it through and were then carefully glued with a photodetector, which will collect and amplify their scintillation light and convert the light into an electrical signal. Each photodetector was then housed in one of 22 slightly different varieties of capsules and glued to one of 34 categories of crystal, in total making 146 different possible combinations: “So there’s a lot of scope to go wrong! We have to check it very carefully after each stage,” explains Auffray.
Then, like building blocks, the crystals were grouped in increasing numbers – for the barrel section they are first packed into lightweight glass-fibre boxes in groups of ten, making a ‘sub-module’. A ‘module’ was then constructed out of 40 or 50 sub-modules.
These modules were then joined by those assembled at the INFN/ENEA Laboratory near Rome, which also carried out the crystal tests and the glueing of photodetectors, in tandem with CERN. These were packed in groups of four, making one of the 36 “supermodules”, each of which weighs 2.5 tonnes.
For the endcaps, 25 crystals are grouped in five-by-five blocks named “supercrystals” and inserted into one of four “Dees”, structures named for their resemblance to the letter D, that fit around the beam allowing easy installation.
Finally the monitoring, cooling system and final electronics were added to the supermodules before they entered the experiment cavern. The cooling system is a record-breaking achievement that keeps the 75,848 crystals within 0.1°C of their optimum temperature to ensure they give a stable and equal response. The flow of water needed to achieve this, recycled through the system, equals 1/10th of the output of Geneva’s Jet d’Eau (Geneva’s fountain).
Inside CMS the supermodules are supported on a strong but lightweight system, designed to add only a minimum amount of material in front of the detector. The structure and crystals are so densely and precisely packed that the remaining space is only 1% of the total. The 2.5-tonne weight of each supermodule is cantilevered from one end so that two-thirds of it is taken at the back and the remaining third on a slender arm of aluminium and glass fibre composite. The maximum expected sag, including in the event of (very improbable) earthquakes, is about half a millimetre. This structure accounts itself for just 10% of the total weight - like a car that carries four passengers weighing just 30kg!