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Electronics Decipher Fermilab Collisions

For the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) group in Ohio State's Department of Physics, this is an exciting time. Not only did Brian Winer and Richard Hughes, both associate professors, lead the effort to design a particle tracker for CDF, but they had the singular joy of seeing the device in action -- and reveling in the results.

Fermilab's Tevatron is the most powerful particle accelerator of the world, and Winer and Hughes worked for five years to design the fastest tracker in the world: a mass of circuits and parallel processors capable of charting the paths of up to 5 trillion particles per second, emanating from 7.5 million proton-antiproton collisions each second.

The device, called the eXtremely Fast Tracker (XFT), kept pace with the accelerator, and it worked perfectly its first time out. Its initial results matched the computer simulations that Winer and Hughes ran during its development. Now the physicists are busy analyzing data from Fermilab's Collider Run II, which started in March of 2001, and is expected to continue through 2007.

The XFT is the first and most powerful in a series of tracking devices that sort the data emerging from the collider. When a collision occurs that may be of interest to physicists -- for instance, the creation of the theoretical Higgs boson -- the XFT pulls that data from the stream, and passes it long to other devices for more analysis.

"We're dealing with a huge amount of data," said Winer. "From the trillions of collisions that will take place over the next five years, we may only generate 50 events that will help us find the Higgs boson. We have to make sure we can find those key events and save them to tape."

"Because the collisions happen so fast, we had to design the XFT to attain a balance between gathering enough information, and doing it very quickly," Hughes added.

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