CERN Accelerating science

International School on Precision Studies for the AVA Network

Solving the mystery of the imbalance between matter and antimatter in the universe has been one of the greatest challenges in physics. Experiments using low energy antimatter give insight into some of the most fundamental questions in science. They allow probing symmetries and interactions in unprecedented detail. In order to perform these experiments, highly sophisticated facilities such as CERN’s antiproton decelerator rings AD and ELENA are required.

The Accelerators Validating Antimatter physics (AVA) project enables an interdisciplinary and cross-sector program on antimatter research. This project is an Innovative Training Network within the H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme. The foundation of the AVA Network is the training and continued development of AVA Fellows who contribute to fundamental questions around antimatter.

The latest training, a week-long School on Precision Studies, was organised to take place in Prague (Czech Republic) at the end of March 2020. However, due to the travel restrictions in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic it was no longer possible to hold this advanced school as planned. To keep a significant part of the school content, it was decided to run the meeting as an online event.

The virtual School was joined by more than 50 participants and saw lectures and topical talks given by world-leading experts. They presented the latest results in theoretical and experimental antimatter studies along with wider research in accelerator science and particle physics. The event started with a recap of the basics of beam handling and cooling techniques, instrumentation and particle trapping on the first day. This was complemented with an in-depth overview of the experimental programme at the Antiproton Decelerator (AD) facility at CERN where currently all of the low energy antimatter physics research is carried out. Presentations highlighted the state-of-the-art and the challenges associated with limited intensities, machine access and required precision.


The online school was joined by more than 50 participants. (Image credit: University of Liverpool)

The School continued by putting the AVA research programme into a wider context. This included ‘classic’ particle physics experiments, interferometry and quantum technologies. These talks helped understand the wider context in which precision studies are placed. Slides from all presentations, poster contributions and recordings from the talks can be viewed via the events indico page.

In the current landscape, connecting people online has become increasingly the norm. It allows continuity of meetings and events albeit in a different format. This presents an opportunity to overcome some of the challenges associated with remote working. The online format of this school successfully allowed interactive discussions benefiting from Zoom’s chat functionality. Whilst not a full replacement for the original school, the online event allowed speakers and participants to connect and share information in a way that was not done before within the AVA Network.

Professor Carsten P. Welsch, AVA Coordinator and Head of the Physics Department at the University of Liverpool (UK), said: “The presentations highlighted the current state-of-the-art in precision studies using low energy antimatter beams. They also clearly showed the numerous challenges from limited beam intensities, machine access and the required precision. The AVA research has helped significantly improve a number of key technologies for these studies and also paved the way for entirely new experiments. Whilst the School could not take the planned format on this occasion, it still offered an excellent opportunity for discussions and knowledge exchange.”

The invaluable help of FOTON and the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences for helping to organise the school is acknowledged.

Looking forward, the AVA Network will be co-organising the International Conference on Exotic Atoms and Related Topics, the 7th edition of the EXA conference series, which will take place in Vienna (Austria) next year. Latest news and information about upcoming events can be found on the AVA webpage.


The AVA project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 721559.

Panos Charitos (CERN)
A big step towards the superconducting magnets of the future
28 Jun 2018

A big step towards the superconducting magnets of the future

FRESCA2 reaches an important milestone, a magnetic field of 14.6 T a record for a magnet with a “free” aperture

Alessandro Bertarelli (CERN)
Workshop for extreme thermal management materials
8 Dec 2017

Workshop for extreme thermal management materials

Researchers gathered in Turin, Italy to discuss current and future work.

Daniela Antonio (CERN)
The future of communication and outreach for accelerators
10 Dec 2018

The future of communication and outreach for accelerators

Members from the accelerator communication community gathered at CERN for a workshop.

Measuring AD beam intensity with a Cryogenic Current Comparator

Fig.1: Detail of the PCB holding the CCC coupling circuit and SQUID sensor. (Credit: CERN)

Non-perturbative measurements of low-intensity charged particle beams are particularly challenging to beam diagnostics due to the low amplitude of the induced electromagnetic fields. However, such measurements are essential to monitor the operation efficiency of Antiproton Decelerator machine and the future extra low energy antiproton rings.  A precise measurement of the beam intensity in the AD is essential to monitor any losses during the deceleration and cooling phases of the AD cycle, and to calibrate the absolute number of particles delivered to the experiments.

Traditional devices that are able to measure DC beams like the DC Current Transformer (DCCT) are limited in current resolution to ≥ 1 µA. The previously existing Schottky-noise based monitor was very inaccurate when measuring low-intensity DC beams, and intensity measurement using the bunched beam coherent components presented a strong bunch shape and length dependency. In addition, these can not be easily calibrated for an absolute measurement.

A new beam intensity diagnostic based on a Cryogenic Current Comparator (CCC) was developed for the Antiproton Decelerator (AD) machine, which was optimized in terms of its current resolution, system stability and ability to cope with short bunched beams, and immunity to mechanical vibrations. This project was developed in a collaboration between Friedrich Schiller University, University of Liverpool, GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research and CERN.

The CCC working principle is based on the measurement of the magnetic field induced by the particle beam to be measured. The magnetic flux is concentrated in a high-permeability ferromagnetic pickup core from which it is coupled into the Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) sensor via a superconducting flux transformer circuit. A superconducting magnetic shield structure containing the pickup core with a meander structure renders the coupled magnetic field nearly independent of the beam transverse position while also shielding the system against external magnetic field perturbations. A schematic of the different components is shown below.

Fig.2: Schematic of the CCC, showing the meander-shaped superconducting magnetic shield in grey, the ferromagnetic core in green, the passive magnetic coupling circuit, the SQUID device and its electronic feedback loop read-out. (Credit: CERN)

The main goal of this project was to demonstrate an operational and stable system that would achieve sub micro-Ampere resolution to be able to measure the coasting and bunched antiproton beams at CERN. Previous systems had already achieved comparable and even superior resolutions of the order of 1nA, however, these were obtained in a laboratory environment and would suffer from significant perturbations from mechanical or EMI noise when installed in an actual accelerator. These could hence not be continuously used during standard machine operation.

The immunity to mechanical vibrations was accomplished by the delicate and careful design of a new cryostat to house the CCC monitor. This was entirely designed and fabricated at CERN by the Cryogenic Group in the Technology department and the Mechanical and Materials group in the Engineering Department. The geometry of the of the cold-mass support system inside was optimized for reducing the vibration transmission, while at the same time minimizing the heat in-leak to allow for a stand-alone operation with cooling power entirely provided by a cryocooler.

Fig.3: Cryostat housing CCC monitor. (Credit: CERN)

The CCC monitor with complete acquisition system was installed in the AD, and has been able to consistently provide a beam current measurement with resolutions down to 2 to 5 nano amperes. Which is equivalent to a beam intensity resolution of 1 to 2.5 x 104 charges at the revolution frequency during injection, and one order of magnitude worse at ejection. This is the first operational CCC system able to measure the average current of both bunched and coasting beams in a synchrotron accelerator with an extended autonomy. The cooling of the cryostat with the cryocooler still presents some limitations and after a liquid helium refill the system has been operational for periods of 3 to 5 months.

Fig.4: Measurement of an AD cycle during beam commissioning, where a low intensity beam was injected and lost at the beginning of the first deceleration ramp. Top-plot: magnetic cycle with beam injection at the beginning of the highest energy plateau; Middle-plot: CCC measurement of the average beam current; Bottom-plot: CCC measurement of the total number of particles and comparison with the measurement obtained from the Schottky noise system. (Credit: CERN)

The performed measurements represent a considerable improvement over the previously available measurement, making the CCC an important tool for reducing the beam commissioning time, reducing troubleshooting times, and ultimately increasing machine efficiency. During the past two year, the monitor has been available for extended periods and the provided intensity measurement has been routinely used by the AD operations team. Another particular improvement is the possibility of absolute calibration of the experiments receiving the particle beam using data from the CCC, as well as cross-calibration of other intensity monitors. Currently going on projects expect to develop and install several CCC monitors in the low-energy Cryring at GSI and several other ones in the FAIR facility.

A paper reporting the initial beam measurements performed with the new CCC in the AD with title “Non-perturbative measurement of low-intensity charged particle beams” was published last year in the Superconductor Science and Technology IOP journal, and has been selected for the journal highlights of that year in the category of Large-Scale Applications together with other 8 papers.

Fig. 5: CCC magnetic superconducting shield and ferromagnetic pickup coil. (Credit: University of Jena)
M. Bastos, N. Beev, M. Martino (CERN)
High-Precision Digitizer for High Luminosity LHC
25 Mar 2020

High-Precision Digitizer for High Luminosity LHC

CERN developed a digitizer to ensure the high-precision measurement of the current delivered to the superconducting magnets of the HL-LHC.

Joseph Wolfenden (University of Liverpool)
Synchrotron radiation imaging at 200 miles
15 Jul 2020

Synchrotron radiation imaging at 200 miles

Experts from the University of Liverpool and Diamond Light Source have taken a step further and conducted a series of remote access beam measurements.

Isabel Bejar Alonso (CERN)
A new step for High-Luminosity LHC
10 Dec 2018

A new step for High-Luminosity LHC

...a worldwide project to enhance LHC potential to discover. The 8th HL-LHC Collaboration Meeting took place last October, in Geneva.