CERN Accelerating science

Power converters specially designed for CERN can now be used by the wider accelerator community

The SOLEIL synchrotron facilities in Paris, France. (Image: SOLEIL)

The Electrical Power Converters (EPC) Group at CERN has developed new software layers to allow the broader particle accelerator community to use the CERN-specific power converters controls.

Power converters are a fundamental part of CERN’s accelerator complex, allowing it to function properly. In particle accelerators, the particle beams are guided by powerful magnets and are accelerated in metallic chambers called radiofrequency cavities. More than five thousand power converters electrically power both these structures. Many different types are needed, ranging in power from a few watts to more than one hundred megawatts. Some produce a steady current or voltage, while others must ramp, or pulse synchronously with all the other equipment in the accelerator. Therefore, the effective operation of each power converter depends on high-performance digital controls that regulate the current in the circuit.

Since the creation of the LHC, CERN power converters use specialised control computers called Function Generator/Controllers (FGCs), integrated into the power converters. An associated FGC software framework was developed to integrate the FGC hardware into CERN’s accelerator controls environment, which is unique to CERN. With the new software stack, the FGC hardware can now be integrated in the TANGO and EPICS control environments, which are the most common control frameworks used at other accelerator infrastructures. This update will open the door for FGCs and CERN-designed power converters to be deployed to other accelerator facilities, such as synchrotrons.

The project to integrate FGCs into the EPICS and TANGO frameworks was conceived in 2014 and resulted in the successful transfer of FGC converter controls to a European manufacturer, who supplied the new power converter to the main cyclotron magnet of the TRIUMF laboratory in 2018. In 2019, CERN provided power converter technology and the associated converter controls to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF). TRIUMF uses EPICS while ESRF uses TANGO.

Thanks to its potential for future technology transfer, the FGC update was one of the five projects selected to receive funding from the KT Fund in 2019. The objective is to continue the FGC framework integration with more commonly used control environments in the context of a collaboration agreement between CERN and SOLEIL.

During the first phase of this collaboration, CERN provided training and lent a standalone FGC and a small power converter controlled by an FGC to SOLEIL. “The SOLEIL upgrade builds on previous experience, gradually moving to a unified controls’ environment for which the FGC framework is particularly suitable,” explains Nick Ziogas, Knowledge Transfer Officer at CERN. In 2020, during phase 2 of the collaboration, eleven controllers of existing commercial power converters installed at the SOLEIL synchrotron (Paris, France) will be replaced by FGCs. SOLEIL intends to procure 1,700 power converters with digital controllers by 2025 for its major upgrade to higher brilliance and these could hopefully be CERN designs using FGC for controls.

At a time when the broader high-energy physics community debates the next-generation of accelerator machines, many laboratories have major upgrades in store for the next decades, aiming to achieve a performance that could lead to more complex science. This means higher luminosity in colliders and higher brilliance in light sources and, therefore, an upgrade of the accelerator infrastructure.

“The FGC framework comes with a powerful software stack that allows for monitoring and diagnosis of faults and the automatic configuration of the controllers following a change of hardware components,” explains Quentin King, head of the Converter Controls Software Section in the EPC Group. “Powerful management tools are vital when large numbers of converter controllers are used. This is a major requirement from all light sources: to have good insight and understanding of what is happening in their power converters.”

The integration of CERN’s FGC framework with the most common accelerator control frameworks, including TANGO, results in an important knowledge transfer opportunity, since it allows the power converters specifically developed for CERN to be used by both partner laboratories and industry, in fields from particle physics to medical and biomedical research.


The CERN Knowledge Transfer Fund is a tool to bridge the gap between research and industry. It selects innovative projects based on a CERN technology with high potential for positive societal impact beyond high-energy physics. The fund is supported in part through revenues from commercial agreements concluded by CERN's Knowledge Transfer Group.

Adriana Rossi (CERN) & Sergey Sadovich (CERN)
Electron Lens Test Stand at CERN
20 Mar 2019

Electron Lens Test Stand at CERN

The new electron lens test stand paves the way for the HL-LHC upgrade.

Anaïs Schaeffer
Aligning the HL-LHC magnets with interferometry
4 Dec 2019

Aligning the HL-LHC magnets with interferometry

CERN surveyors have developed a procedure based on interferometry to determine the position of cold masses inside the cryostats of the future HL-LHC.

Stéphanie Vandergooten
Apply now to the Joint Universities Accelerator School
23 Sep 2019

Apply now to the Joint Universities Accelerator School

Interested to learn more about Particle Accelerators? Apply now to the 2020 JUAS School in Archamps to follow 5-week courses on particle accelerators.

Using CERN magnet technology in innovative cancer treatment

The new compact non-rotating gantry design enables the treatment of tumours from different angles using superconducting toroidal magnets (Image: Daniel Dominguez/CERN)

Derived from developments in accelerators, detectors and computing, the state-of-the-art technologies behind particle physics have historically contributed to innovations in medical technologies. CERN’s latest addition to this is GaToroid, a novel superconducting and lightweight gantry that can surround a patient and potentially revolutionise the delivery of hadrons for therapies, including cancer treatment.

Hadron therapy is an advanced radiotherapy technique that uses proton or ion beams to deliver precision treatment of tumours, sparing the surrounding healthy tissues from unwanted radiation. The intrinsic precision of this technique makes it particularly suitable for treating tumours in children or close to organs at risk. Furthermore, using rotating gantries to move the beam around the patient, medical doctors can irradiate the tumours from different angles, sparing even more of the surrounding tissue.

Gantries are complex pieces of engineering, representing a considerable part of the installation costs and size, or footprint, in hadron therapy. Particularly for carbon ions, there are only two gantries in the world. The first one is at the Heidelberg Ion-Beam Therapy Center in Germany, measuring 25 metres in length and weighing more than 600 tonnes. The second one, in Chiba, Japan, is a superconducting gantry with a reduced size and weight, but with the added challenge of a rotating cryogenic system. While the therapeutic interest for carbon or other ions heavier than protons is increasing, the enormous size of today’s gantries, combined with the lack of viable standard technological solutions, poses relevant constraints on future hadron-therapy facilities.

Well aware of these challenges, CERN scientist and magnet expert Luca Bottura came up with a new, innovative gantry design based on a toroidal magnet concept, GaToroid, which bends the treatment beam without the need to rotate the structure. The gantry comprises a set of fixed, discrete superconducting coils constituting the toroidal magnet, and a bending device at the entrance of the structure to direct the beam at the right angle. Due to the use of superconductors, GaToroid will substantially reduce weight and footprint compared to conventional gantries, especially for ion beams. This invention was not the output of a dedicated research study, but a result of serendipity coming from Luca’s connection to other fields of applied science and his own professional experience.



This animation shows how the superconducting toroidal magnets around the patient are used to direct an incoming hadron beam at the right angle to treat a tumour (Video: Daniel Dominguez/CERN)

Luca Bottura, who leads CERN’s Magnets, Superconductors and Cryostats group, illustrated his innovative design for a hadron therapy gantry based on a toroidal magnet. He presented his idea at the last Knowledge Transfer Seminar, GaToroid: A Novel Superconducting Compact and Lightweight Gantry for Hadron Therapy, which took place on 22 November at CERN. The recording of the event is easily accessible at:

This article was published at in 20 November 2018.

Isabel Alonso, ‎Cedric Garion, Marco Morrone (CERN)
A new generation of beam screens
10 Dec 2018

A new generation of beam screens

The vacuum group of the HL-LHC collaboration had to innovate in a lot of aspects.

Marco Zanetti (INFN & Univ. Padua), Frank Zimmermann (CERN)
Workshop shines Light on Photon-Beam Interactions
7 Dec 2017

Workshop shines Light on Photon-Beam Interactions

The ARIES Photon Beams 2017 Workshop was held in Padua, Italy in late November 2017.

Federico Carra (CERN)
A novel composite for HL-LHC collimators
12 Jul 2019

A novel composite for HL-LHC collimators

During the LS2, the LHC collimation system will be upgraded with new primary collimators for halo cleaning and in the dispersion suppression region.

ATS-KT Innovation Days

On 26th October 2018, the Accelerator and Technology sector (ATS) and the Knowledge Transfer (KT) group jointly hosted the first ATS-KT Innovation Day, in which members of ATS personnel presented their ideas for new technologies and services that have potential application outside of high-energy physics. The day provided the participants with the opportunity to raise awareness of their ideas and to receive feedback.

Several of the participants have subsequently made applications to the Knowledge Transfer Fund – a tool to help bridge the gap between research and industry. In December, they will pitch their ideas to a selection committee composed of CERN’s department heads and members of the CERN KT group.

From the Beams (BE) department the presentations included new hardware and software for monitoring and maintaining safety, beam monitors and related electronics for use in research and medical accelerators, a high reliability DC/DC converter, and a monitoring solution for Parkinson’s disease.

From Engineering (EN), a radiation tolerant wireless Internet of Things platform for on-field sensor data acquisition was presented, with potential applications in nuclear power plants and aerospace.

Personnel from the Technology (TE) department presented ideas across a broad spectrum of technical domains, including sensors and diagnostics for magnet systems, a novel process for manufacturing Non-Evaporable Getter coated beam pipes, a movable cylindrical magnetron sputtering source, techniques for using Shape Memory Alloy connectors for Ultra High Vacuum and High Pressure systems, and a residual gas analysing tool using machine-learning.

Finally, from the AT Directorate Office, a low noise and high sensitivity device for monitoring seismic activity was presented, with potential use as an alerting system for earthquakes.

All presentations from the ATS-KT Innovation Day are available on Indico:

FCC Innovation Day

The international symposium on Particle Colliders: Accelerators of Innovation will take place in Liverpool, on Friday, 22 March 2019. The University of Liverpool and CERN, together with partners from the FCC/EuroCirCol projects and the EASITrain MSCA network, are delighted to host a symposium to showcase the science and technology challenges related to such a global project. The aim of this special event is to explore the opportunities for co-innovation between a variety of industries including energy, health, security, transport, IT, communications, and civil engineering, as well as cryogenics, detectors and accelerator technology.

The symposium will take place at the prestigious Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre near the famous Albert Dock. The event will feature talks by keynote speakers, an industry exhibition, as well as hands-on activities for the general public.

This is an ideal opportunity to get involved in one of the largest scientific and technological endeavours of the 21st century. You can register now and secure a place via the following website:

Linn Tvede, Giovanni Porcellana (CERN)
Using CERN magnet technology in innovative cancer treatment
10 Dec 2018

Using CERN magnet technology in innovative cancer treatment

The enormous size of today’s gantries poses constraints on future hadron-therapy facilities.

Panagiotis Charitos (CERN)
Quadrupole magnets for FCC-ee
8 Oct 2018

Quadrupole magnets for FCC-ee

First tests of a twin quadrupole magnet for FCC-ee took place last summer in CERN's new magnetic measurement laboratory.

James Robert Henderson (ASTeC)
Intelligent Control Systems for Particle Accelerators
9 Mar 2018

Intelligent Control Systems for Particle Accelerators

Artificial Intelligence paves way for entirely new ways to operate big science facilities

A reverse hackathon with CERN

Participants at the CERN Hackathon in July. (Credit: HighTechXL)

Six high-tech business teams were selected to explore business solutions for CERN technologies within the HighTechXL Accelerator Program. They presented their winning projects during the CERN Hackathon in the Netherlands, organised jointly by CERN, Nikhef, and HighTechXL. The teams will now go on to explore technologies connected to novel lasers, accelerator technology, and cooling systems and their applications to industrial applications for satellite communication, medical technology and high stability cooling.

They will spend the next three months at the HighTech Campus in the Netherlands, an accelerator programme designed exclusively for advanced-technology and hardware entrepreneurs, and part of the Eindhoven Brainport Ecosystem. “The Brainport region and its density of ultra-high-tech companies, such as Philips and ASML, is the obvious place to bring together innovators and CERN technology. We have selected technologies that fit well with this ecosystem to have as much synergy as possible,” said Dr. Jan Visser, industrial liaison officer for CERN from Nikhef.

The CERN Hackathon was centred on promising CERN technologies and sought to recruit highly motivated teams capable of imagining relevant commercial applications for them. The process challenged the usual start-up accelerator approach, which is generally focused on a customer or solution. With this initiative, CERN and Nikhef hope to tap into this high tech community by providing leading technologies backed by CERN’s research prestige to find new applications. HighTechXL uses its network to attract participants with the relevant technical affinity and business acumen. “This collaboration provides a unique opportunity for high-tech industry experts to become founding members of new fast-growing high-tech companies,” said HighTechXL founder Guus Frericks.

The CERN, Nikhef, HighTechXL collaboration kicked off on July 2 with 100 participants, the best from the pool of candidates. CERN has been working for several years to develop a culture of entrepreneurship, either by bringing its technology to entrepreneurs, or by bringing entrepreneurs to CERN. This entrepreneurship ecosystem is developed through programmes such as the CERN Entrepreneurship Meet-Ups (EM-Us), the CERN Entrepreneurship Student Programme (CESP), and through CERN’s network of Business Incubation Centres (BICs), which exist in ten of CERN’s Member States. Since early 2018, CERN and Nikhef have been revitalising the Dutch BIC by looking for new ways to explore the significant potential of certain CERN’s technologies and decided to collaborate with HighTechXL, whose purpose is to create and support start-ups around state-of-the-art technology.

“CERN technologies are complex and state-of-the art, and they could have revolutionary potential. One has to go very deep to understand, yet the reward can be significant,” says Han Dols, working at the CERN Knowledge Transfer Group. “The motivation and commitment of the teams is impressive, especially knowing some are, at this stage, participating on top of their daily jobs. Clearly they recognize this programme as a unique chance to build a business from these beautiful CERN technologies.”

The technologies that will be further explored in the HighTechXL Accelerator Program are: evaporative cooling using carbon dioxide (CO2), long-distance structured laser beam (SLB), and a novel compact high frequency radio-frequency quadrupole (HF-RFQ) linear particle accelerator. These technologies served as inspiration for the winning teams High Tech Cooling, Microspot, Modular Energies, Dynaxion and Dynaxion 2. Participation in the programme gives them access to an array of experts in law, funding, design, communication, and business. “The knowledge we have in the BIC Network about start-ups, creating effective teams, financing, etc., as well as the broad network of collaborators and mentors at our disposal, tell us that these teams should be able to convert their ideas into realistic business opportunities,” explains Dr. Visser. At the end of the programme, they will pitch to an investor audience made up of large companies from the Eindhoven ecosystem and venture capitalists.

What sort of solutions can come from CERN’s tech?

To cite only some of the proposed solutions, High Tech Cooling plans to tap into evaporative cooling using carbon dioxide (CO2) to control the temperature of high-tech devices to very high stabilities with minimal variety over the object to be cooled. This technology can use very small pipes enabling new applications, and can be supplied from a long distance. In addition, it has a much lower negative impact on the environment, as it uses CO2 instead of fluorocarbon refrigerants.

Modular Energies addresses the difficult access to radioisotopes - for example, in smaller or more remote hospitals - to improve access to certain types of diagnostics. By using the modest size of the compact high frequency radio-frequency quadrupole (HF-RFQ) linear particle accelerator, Modular Energies plans to enable hospitals with access to radioisotopes through the low cost of ownership, high uptime, ease of use, short installation time, low weight, high radiation safety, compact size, and even installation in existing housing. Currently, the team is looking for high tech equipment developers, an applied physicist who can start the testing phase and enjoys doing simulations, and for someone with a business background.    

Microspot, as a final example of these technological applications, addresses the increasing demand for data processing capacity and proposes the solution might be satellite communication. The team projects to use a long-distance structured laser beam (SLB) for inter-satellite communication, using the fact that laser beams are characterized by little divergence over long distances, and proposing the SLB might deliver a faster, more secure, lighter, and cheaper way for data transmission between satellites compared to current solutions. Currently, the team is looking for people with technical backgrounds to work full- or part-time, preferably from a telecommunications and/or satellite systems background.

Panagiotis Charitos
EASISchool Grenoble
3 Dec 2019

EASISchool Grenoble

Cryogenics and its applications took central stage during the EASISchool 2 that was held from the 30th of September to the 4th of October in two CEA sites, Paris-Saclay and Grenoble, France.

Francisco Sanchez Galan
P8 towards HL-LHC thanks to a new absorber
20 Oct 2019

P8 towards HL-LHC thanks to a new absorber

The first definitive component of the High-Luminosity LHC has been installed, in a prime example of collaboration across different groups.

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