An FPGA Implementation of Neutrino Track Detection for the Icecube Telescope (Electronics Project)

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The IceCube telescope is built within the ice at the geographical South Pole in the middle of the Antarctica continent. The purpose of the telescope is to detect muon neutrinos, the muon neutrino being an elementary particle with minuscule mass coming from space.

The detector consists of some 5000 DOMs registering photon hits (light). A muon neutrino traveling through the detector might give rise to a track of photons making up a straight line, and by analyzing the hit output of the DOMs, looking for tracks, neutrinos and their direction can be detected.

When processing the output, triggers are used. Triggers are calculation- efficient algorithms used to tell if the hits seem to make up a track – if that is the case, all hits are processed more carefully to find the direction and other properties of the track.

The Track Engine is an additional trigger, specialized to trigger on low- energy events (few track hits), which are particularly difficult to detect. Low-energy events are of special interest in the search for Dark Matter.

An algorithm for triggering on low-energy events has been suggested. Its main idea is to divide time in overlapping time windows, find all possible pairs of hits in each time window, calculate the spherical coordinates θ and ϕ of the position vectors of the hits of the pairs, histogram the angles, and look for peaks in the resulting 2d-histogram. Such peaks would indicate a straight line of hits, and, hence, a track.

It is not believed that a software implementation of the algorithm would be fast enough. The Master’s Thesis project has had the aim of developing an FPGA implementation of the algorithm.

Such an FPGA implementation has been developed. Extensive tests on the design has yielded positive results showing that it is fully functional. The design can be synthesized to about 180 MHz, making it possible to handle an incoming hit rate of about 6 MHz, giving a margin of more than twice to the expected average hit rate of 2.6 MHz.
Source: Linköping University
Author: Wernhoff, Carl

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