Advanced Scientific Instrumentation
Experimental particle physics and multidisciplinary experimental research relies on scientific instrumentation with consistently increasing data collection capacities, with many channels operating at high working frequencies. This results in massive amounts of data: we specialize in developing new instruments and methods to efficiently and effectively deal with this extreme data production rate. Our research activity focuses on the development of advanced scientific instrumentation for particle physics experiments, nuclear applications, supercomputing, and multidisciplinary experimental research including cultural heritage and optics.
This research topic includes the following two areas: photothermal spectroscopy and quantum cascade laser coupled to cavity ring down spectroscopy for trace gas detection. Research is carried out in a number of fields, including material characterization, environmental and analytical chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, and ecology. We maintain strong working collaborations with Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste, INFN Trieste, INFN Frascati, the University of Nova Gorica in Slovenia, and the National Institute for Research and Development of Isotopic and Molecular Technologies, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. The research activities receive substantial operating funds through contributions from SPIE, the International Society of Optics and Photonics, through its Anchor Research Program with ICTP.
Currently, the activities are directed to:
- the development of laser-based methods, bioanalytical methods, for the identification and determination of toxic compounds in the environment,
- the investigation of photocatalytic degradation of pollutants in the environment,
- implementation of on-line thermal lens detection for electrophoresis techniques,
- separation and detection of biomolecules using electrophoresis coupled with thermal lens spectrometry,
- determination of thermo-optical properties of materials by thermal lens spectrometry and beam deflection spectroscopy.
We are currently participating in upgrading the data acquisition and processing system of the COMPASS spectrometer at CERN. Working with INFN Trieste and the Technical University of Munich, we are developing systems to support COMPASS's experimental results on hadronic structure. In particular, the current collaboration focuses on the development of a new generation of multichannel trigger-less data acquisition and real-time feature extraction architecture based on Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) and Systems-on-Chip (SoC) for the particle detectors of AMBER that is the next-generation successor of the COMPASS experiment starting its data-taking in 2023.
One of the aim of the collaborative projects with IAEA NSIL [link] is to develop a compact radiation monitor, spectrometer and multi-channel analyser based on novel detectors and modern FPGA technology. The system is meant to be integrated on board of an unmanned aerial vehicle. The use of artificial neural networks in nuclear instrumentation such as the classification of the signal pulse shape for real-time identification of ionizing particles will be explored. The project foresees the development of an experimental high-performance hardware platform based on FPGA-Multiprocessor devices for training and optimization of machine learning methods for nuclear applications. The collaboration also foresees the development of a transportable X-ray fluorescence and related techniques spectrometer and scanner for non-destructive quantitative elemental analysis, and to meet most of the spatially resolved measurements needed for the characterization of cultural heritage objects and other kinds of samples.
Technologies that can compute large amounts of data quickly without high power demands are in high demand, with standard computing facilities reaching their limits. Systems on Chip (SoC) technologies offer a way forward with the possibility of parallelising critical computing tasks at high processing speed, based on tightly interconnected FPGA fabrics with high-performance multi-core processors. Although systems based on this kind of complex devices can deliver a great number of computational services with low latency responses and high throughput online data processing, they are still difficult to exploit. Our research is in collaboration with the University of Trieste and focused on new methodologies and hardware/software architectures for efficient implementation of clusters of SoC-FPGA for supercomputing and scientific applications. The research plan includes hardware prototyping, FPGA design and software development. We have designed a novel hardware board, called HyperFPGA, which can be electrically interconnected according to a bidimensional mesh network to build a scalable and homogeneous SoC-FPGA cluster.
High-density electrophysiological instrumentation is gaining wider use in many fields, as a tool for investigating and understanding the workings of the brain. But the cost of this tool can be prohibitive for many laboratories, particularly in developing countries. HiCCE is an open-hardware and open-source project aimed at providing high-performance, low-cost research instrumentation for electrophysiology. As an Open Science project, all information and plans will be publicly available, as a resource for anyone interested in related research questions, removing cost as a barrier to research.
The main hardware components of HiCCE are a custom mezzanine data acquisition board (HiCCE-128) connected to a commercial FMC Standard Carrier based on SoC-FPGA, and a host computer for remote operation and data storage. The system comprises 128 independent channels capable of acquiring signal at 31.25 kHz, with 16 effective bits per channel with a measured noise level of about 3 μV. The reliability and feasibility of the implemented system have been confirmed through the acquisition of different electrophysiological signals such as EEG alpha waves, EoG eye blinking, ECG and EMG.
We are also collaborating with the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia to develop a wireless capacitive electromyography (cEMG) measurement system with reconfigurable hardware and digital filter to monitor muscle activity. The increasing number of people with musculoskeletal diseases, such as chronic lower back pain, myopathy and fibromyalgia, requires innovative monitoring and treatment concepts. Challenges for this project include designing a compact and low power consumption wireless cEMG sensor, high sampling rate and resolution filter module, high signal-to-noise ratio performance, and dynamic filtering capability.
This research topic includes the application of X-ray analytical instruments and other scientific methods to Cultural Heritage. As a centre of excellence for the application of applied science in cultural heritage, we are involved in a large number of scientific collaborations to study paleontological, archaeological and paleoanthropological materials by means of X-ray computed microtomography (microCT) and complementary techniques. The research is being conducted in collaboration with Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste and Centro Fermi (Rome). We have also extensive experience in the study of ancient landscapes through archaeological surveys and excavations, geophysical and other remote sensing techniques, in collaboration with the University of Trieste, the Soprintendenza Archeologica del FVG and other Italian, Slovenian and Croatian institutions. Thanks also to the support of private funds, interdisciplinary studies about the ancient landscape of the northeastern Adriatic regions have been carried out. We have recently participated in archaeological excavations of the San Rocco Roman military camp (2nd- 1st centuries BC).
Ionospheric Physics, Ionospheric Modelling, Space Weather
The Earth's ionosphere is defined as that part of the upper atmosphere where sufficient free electrons exist to affect the propagation of radio waves. The ionosphere extends from about 60 km up to about 1000 km of height, where it merges into the plasmasphere. Our Group carries out research on the near-Earth plasma environment, ionospheric physics and ionospheric modelling. Particular attention is given to space weather phenomena, which can influence the performance of technological systems like the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS).
Our research activities include the study, development and validation of ionosphere models. In collaboration with the colleagues of Graz University, in Austria, our Team has developed the NeQuick, a three-dimensional and time dependent ionospheric electron density model particularly suited for trans-ionospheric propagation applications. The NeQuick has been conceived to reproduce the climatological behaviour of the ionosphere and it has been employed in several studies concerning the assessment of ionospheric effects on GNSS. Being strictly related to ionospheric modelling, an important research topic is data assimilation.In this scope we have implemented specific algorithms to incorporate ionospheric data of different kinds into empirical models. These algorithms allow retrieving 3D representations of the ionosphere electron density for current conditions, also in near-real time.
Space weather is defined as conditions on the Sun and in the solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere that can affect the performance of technological systems. The research activities of our Group are also focused on the analysis of ionospheric data from different sources, especially GNSS-derived ground based, space-based and altimeter total electron content (TEC) data, for model validation and to study space weather effects (e.g. geomagnetic storms) in the ionosphere.
Radio Occultation (RO) techniques are of primary importance in the study of planetary atmospheres, since they provide information about the ionosphere and the neutral atmosphere. RO experiments are based on radio links between a transmitter, onboard a satellite, and a receiver. For RO experiments concerning the Earth's atmosphere, the receivers are onboard Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites, while for standard RO performed in relation to other Planets, the receivers are usually located on the Earth. We have devoted particular efforts to the implementation of RO data inversion algorithms. These algorithms have been applied to GNSS-LEO data to obtain ionospheric information over the Earth and to NASA Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellites to obtain electron density profiles over the Red Planet.
Digital Fabrication and Science Dissemination
Our activities are a concrete example of helping to bridge the knowledge divide in terms of inclusion by applying cost-effective, open source digital technologies for the dissemination, support and internationalisation of science. We provide support to ICTP scientific and outreach activities and organise hands-on training workshops, a yearly Maker Faire and Hackathon events. The ICTP Scientific FabLab is open to the public (including non-scientists) and it is active in community building and raising awareness about digital fabrication technologies on an international level.
Wireless ICT and Internet of Things
Our research is about reliable, affordable and sustainable wireless solutions to help foster science in Developing Countries. We leverage unlicensed frequencies to provide broadband solutions such as TVWS and other novel data communications technologies to connect academic institutions, as well as narrowband alternatives to connect scientific devices based on Internet of Things technology.
This research activity focuses on finding solutions to the particular challenges of scientific IoT applications in Developing Countries, such as intermittent energy availability, low speed Internet connections, harsh environmental conditions and privacy issues for underrepresented communities. We focus on specific applications such as weather monitoring using IoT technology, which have a significant local impact while contributing to the improvement of global climate models. This technology will allow data collected from observations of dozens, or even hundreds of scientific institutions or educational organisations to be fully and seamlessly integrated. These devices complement the present high-cost sparse network methodology of collecting weather data on the ground. While such an array will have inferior measurement accuracy due to the low-cost nature, the high spatial density of the array is unique and will prove invaluable for research and operational applications.
It is widely recognized that in many regions of the Developing World, poor Internet access in Universities and Research institutions is one of the causes of the scientific divide. We are researching the use of TVWS (TV white spaces) to improve connectivity options for academic institutions in Developing Countries. We developed open source tools to measure the availability of TVWS frequencies, and have made pilot broadband installations in several countries.
With the growth of IoT deployments there are many reports of very long wireless links, well beyond the line of sight, which can be explained by anomalous tropospheric propagation. Disruptions on the temperature and humidity profiles in the troposphere on frequencies from about 50 MHz to 10000 MHz cause a change in the refraction index that can significantly change the propagation range. The main goal of our research is to examine radio trajectories from end-nodes to LoRaWAN gateways to understand if anomalous propagation has occurred. This citizen science paradigm approach can be extended to many other fields.