Who are you? Can you tell us something about yourself?

My name is Johann Zmeskal, I am a senior scientist at the Stefan Meyer Institute for subatomic Physics of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the largest organisation for basic research in Austria.

In my work I like the combination between R&D to develop frontier technology and the use of new methods to study open problems in hadron physics.  My scientific interest is to study exotic atoms as probe for strong interaction effects in low-energy QCD, with experiments performed in Switzerland, Germany and Italy as well as overseas in Canada and Japan.

You are leading an activity within the HP3 project – which are the scientifically exciting aspects of your research project?

With JointGEM we participate in a European project called HadronPhysics3, with has the main scientific goal to get a deeper understanding of processes involving the strong force.

In this framework new experiments are planned or under construction, which need a new generation of detectors. Therefore, we are studying and developing very light and fast GEM detectors to make charged particle tracks visible. The name of GEM stands for Gas Electron Multiplication and with this technology it is possible to build large particle detectors in almost every necessary shape and size.


The basic idea of such a GEM detector is quite simple although the production of large high-quality foils involves special techniques and know-how:


In a plastic foil (Kapton), both sides covered with an electric conductive material (copper), a lot of small holes are punched. By applying a voltage difference (a few hundred volts) a huge electric field will be generated in the small holes. A charged particle passing through an adequate gas mixture (e.g. argon and CO2) surrounding the GEM foils will produce a few electrons, which are amplified on their way through the small holes due to the strong electric field – a gas electron multiplication occurs.

Nevertheless, it has to be mentioned that the production of large area foils, with the necessary quality, are still produced at their birthplace CERN.

This new technology allows the design of very light weight gas detectors with large areas, in almost every necessary shape and capable to record high particle rate, which is necessary for the next generation of experiments in hadron physics.

New accelerator facilities, like the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) in Germany or improvements on existing facilities, like the proposed upgraded of DAFNE at LNF in Italy will provide higher beam intensities, which are essential for the next generation of frontier experiments. Beside the new facilities new fast detectors with large acceptance, high resolution and extremely low material budget must be developed. Within this work package JointGEM, R&D work is ongoing to show the proof of principle of different detector concepts covering a wide range of applications in Hadron Physics.

Who are the participants to your project?

7 countries (Austria, Finland, Germany, Italy, Romania, Great Britain and France) are participating in this project.

What do you want to achieve with this activity?

We try to develop prototype detectors to give a proof-of-principle that the detector is working as designed, pushing the design goals to the highest possible achievable limit. We are designing and constructing parts of light-weight cylindrical and planar position sensitive detectors using GEM foils. With our research we try to come as close as possible to ideal detectors, which work at high rates, have a large area, have excellent position resolution and are fast.

In which way your activity could be of benefit for the society?

Basic science is an essential part of our culture, and – last but not least – responsible for the prosperity in Europe. Still, Europe is playing a leading role in basic science, for example the HP3 project is bringing more than 2000 scientist together leading to a combined effort of the hadron physics community.

The instrumental developments in WP24: JointGEM will have a broad spectrum of interconnections to frontier technologies, e.g. handling of large data volumes; developing of high-speed detection systems; large, low mass and high-rate, continues tracking systems for GEM based detectors.

The developments of this project will lead to possible spin-offs in important fields like, medical physics with fast detectors for different radiations, providing position and/or energy resolution beyond state-of-the-art. In addition a proof of principle will be given during the R&D work, developing an active TPC, to use this type of detector for neutron detection and neutron tracking (homeland security).

Why do you think a young person should choose to study science and is there any reason for which should they do so in Europe?

In HP3 more than 50 Institutions, specialised in different fields, are working together in joint research and networking activities. For a young student it will be an ideal situation to work together with top specialists and to have the possibility to study abroad.

The HadronPhysics3 project is supported by the European Union
under the 7th Framework Capacities Programme in the area of Research Infrastructures (RI).