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Instrumentation Division Overview

Historical Perspective

The Instrumentation Division was founded in 1948, shortly after the Laboratory began operations, for the purpose of supplying detectors and fast electronics for high energy and nuclear physics experiments. The founders of the Laboratory recognized that specialized skills and facilities would be needed to develop sophisticated detectors for the proposed experimental programs and established a dedicated facility for that purpose. With the development of increasingly complex detectors and electronic systems, this rationale is as true today as it was 50 years ago.

As the major User Facilities of the Laboratory were built, the Instrumentation Division developed detectors to study the particles and radiation that were produced. Gas, liquid, and semiconductor detectors for making precise measurements of position, time, and energy soon set the standard for the state-of-the-art and have been emulated worldwide. The front-end electronics forms an integral part of the detection system, and the Division devotes a high level of effort to co-developing optimal signal processing, using the latest technology, for each detector that is built.

During the late 1970's research in areas related to optics started in the Division. The need for accurate characterization of x-ray mirrors used in synchrotron radiation beam lines resulted in the establishment of the Optical Metrology laboratory. A Laser Laboratory was established to study problems related to the generation, acceleration, and detection of particles and for high speed data acquisition and transmission. A capability to fabricate micro-machined structures has also been added, which complements our optics and microelectronics efforts.

Complementing our scientific expertise is a unique dual mode of conducting research. As a participant in a major experiment, an Instrumentation team builds a specialized detector along with its associated signal-processing electronics to create a highly effective, customized instrument. It has been through this mode of scientific collaboration that world-class experimental apparatus has been developed here.

At the same time, through our generic research mission, the Instrumentation Division is free to study new techniques that have no immediate application to any experimental program. In this way several groundbreaking developments have occurred. Examples are: the silicon drift detector, high-aspect ratio micromachining techniques, the video game, ultrashort laser pulse characterization, and ultralow-noise preamplifiers for low-capacitance detectors. More novel concepts, now in an embryonic stage of development within the Division, may one day serve as a foundation for entirely new classes of instruments.