Design and Implementation of a High-Speed Readout and Control System for a Digital Tracking Calorimeter for proton CT
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Particle therapy, a non-invasive technique for treating cancer using protons and light ions, has become more and more common. For example, a particle treatment facility is currently being built, in Bergen, Norway. Proton beams deposit a large fraction of their energy at the end of their paths, i.e., the delivered dose can be focused on the tumor, sparing nearby tissue with a low entry and almost no exit dose. A novel imaging modality using protons promises to overcome some limitations of particle therapy and allowing to fully exploit its potential. Being able to position the so-called Bragg peak accurately inside the tumor is a major advantage of charged particles, but incomplete knowledge about a crucial tissue property, the stopping power, limits its precision. A proton CT scanner provides direct information about the stopping power. It has the potential to reduce range uncertainties significantly, but no proton CT system has yet been shown to be suitable for clinical use. The aim of the Bergen proton CT project is to design and build a proton CT scanner that overcomes most of the critical limitations of the currently existing prototypes and which can be operated in clinical settings. A proton CT prototype, the Digital Tracking Calorimeter, is being developed as a range telescope consisting of high-granularity pixel sensors. The prototype is a combined position-sensitive detector and residual energy-range detector which will allow a substantial rate of protons, speeding up the imaging process. The detector is single-sided, meaning that it employs information from the beam delivery system to omit tracker layers in front of the phantom. The detector operates by tracking the charged particles traversing through the detector material behind the phantom. The proton CT prototype will be used to determine the feasibility of using proton CT to increase the dose planning accuracy for particle treatment of cancer cells. The detector is designed as a telescope of 43 layers of sensors, where the two front layers act as the position-sensitive detector providing an accurate vector of each incoming particle. The remaining layers are used to measure the residual energy of each particle by observing in which layer they stop and by using the cluster size in each layer. The Digital Tracking Calorimeter employs the ALPIDE sensor, a monolithic active pixel sensor, each utilizing a 1.2Gb/s data link. Each layer of 18×27 cm consists of 108 ALPIDE sensors, roughly corresponding to the width and height of the head of a grown person. The sensors are connected to intermediary transition boards that route the data and control links to dedicated readout electronics and supply the sensors with power. The readout unit is the main component of both the data acquisition and the detector control system. The power control unit controls the power supply and monitors the current usage of the sensors. Both of these devices are mainly implemented in FPGAs. The main purpose of this work has been to explore and implement possible design solutions for the proton CT electronics, including the front-end, as well as the readout electronics architecture. The resulting architecture is modular, allowing the further scale-up of the system in the future. A major obstacle to the design is the high amount of sensors and the corresponding high-speed data links. Thus, a large emphasis has been on the signal integrity of the front-end electronics and a dynamic phase alignment sampling method of the readout electronics firmware. The readout FPGA employs regular I/O pins for the high-speed data interface, instead of high-speed transceiver pins, which significantly reduces the magnitude of the data acquisition system. A consistent design approach with detailed and systematic verification of the FPGA firmware modules, along with a continuous integration build system, has resulted in a stable and highly adaptive system. Significant effort has been put into the testing of the various system components. This also includes the design and implementation of a set of production test tools for use during the manufacturing of the detector front-end.