BNL’s Gianluigi De Geronimo and integrated circuits

BNL’s Gianluigi De Geronimo and integrated circuits

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Works with a team of scientists to help in research from cancer to radiation detection

Growing up in Catania, Sicily, Gianluigi De Geronimo caught the bug from his engineer grandfather Giuseppe Nicotra, who was a structural engineer, and his uncle, Luigi Nicotra, who is a doctor with a passion for mechanics and electronics.

Determined to study engineering, De Geronimo took the first of what would become several steps away from the home he knew to pursue his growing passion, traveling to Milan Polytechnic to earn a master’s degree and then a Ph.D. He worked in radiation detection with Emilio Gatti, who came to Brookhaven National Laboratory for one month each year. Gatti recommended De Geronimo to BNL and, after an interview in 1997, the Sicilian engineer moved with his wife Marcella to Long Island, where they have lived ever since.

The moves have proven productive for De Geronimo, who, in April, was named the “Inventor of the Year” at BNL by Battelle, the Ohio-based company that manages BNL in partnership with Stony Brook University.

“I strongly believe that my achievements have been possible not only for my hard work but also for the environment I was blessed with, which includes my BNL colleagues and my family,” he said.

At BNL, De Geronimo designs application-specific integrated circuits for scientific research and tools for national security and medical imaging. He leads the ASIC development team. Some of the ASICs that De Geronimo and his group of five electrical engineers have designed have enabled products like the ProxiScan camera, which can identify prostate cancer in its early stages, as well as the high-resolution, x-ray Maia detector, which can be used to map specific elements in materials and artwork and was used last year to validate the authenticity of Rembrandt’s painting, “Old Man with a Beard.”

The team’s ASIC designs also enabled equipment upgrades for the Atlas detector at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe.

Other researchers often approach De Geronimo, who is in the instrumentation group at BNL, to develop technology that will further their scientific efforts.

“Usually, scientists come to the instrumentation division and discuss the problem,” he said. “Together, we develop the detector, the sensor, the electronics and all the rest that they might need to do their science. We make our scientists competitive by developing instruments they need.”

In a description of De Geronimo’s work as part of the award ceremony, Battelle wrote that he has helped deploy “over a million transistors on an ASIC consisting of just a few square millimeters of silicon, to bring about transformational changes in radiation detector performance.”

“The challenge we have is to integrate all these functionalities into a small area with a very low power dissipation,” he explained. Each channel generates heat, which creates problems for the sensing process.

He needs to “integrate a large number of channels in a small area with low power,” he said.

De Geronimo said radiation sensors convert radiation into electric charge, which moves toward electrodes generating small currents. The detectors read those currents.

The detectors can operate at room temperature or in environments of minus 200 degrees Celsius. His team helped develop ASICs for the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment, which operates submerged in liquid argon at minus 190 degrees Celsius.

The instrumentation group is also developing instruments for security that can detect sources of dangerous radiation.

He called the BNL radiation detector effort “state of the art,” because of the combination of specialized scientists who have backgrounds in core technologies, including microelectronic engineering and detector science, necessary to create the detector.

De Geronimo teaches a graduate class in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Stony Brook called Advanced Design of Low-Noise and Low-Power Analog Circuits.

The BNL scientist said he hopes this course “gives SBU students a [competitive] edge” because “there are very few places in the world” that offer similar courses.

He and his wife, Marcella, an assistant vice president at Krasnoff Quality Management Institute at North Shore-LIJ Health System, live in Syosset with their children Frederico, 13, Francesca, 12, and Giovanni, who will be nine soon.

De Geronimo said he has been especially impressed by the way people react in difficult situations.

“We couldn’t even give blood after 9/11 because the lines were so long,” he said. “People in the United States have a good heart.”

As for his work, De Geronimo said he feels “extremely happy at BNL. That fact that I am succeeding is due to the wonderful collaborations. It’s a very positive environment.”