BNL’s Graham Smith heads instrumentation group

BNL’s Graham Smith heads instrumentation group

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With far-reaching technological development, the group works to contribute to new BNL programs

He takes over a team that has had a hand in everything from the creation of video games to the silicon drift detector (which is used in X-ray spectrometry and electron microscopy).

As the recently appointed head of the instrumentation group at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Graham Smith, who has led the Gas and Liquid Detector Group for 15 years, now takes over as the leader of 40 professionals, most of them scientists, engineers and technicians. Smith helps coordinate the development and refinement of technology designed to answer questions ranging from understanding why neutrinos have mass to determining the structure of complex protein molecules.

A part of the Nuclear and Particle Physics directorate, the instrumentation division also works with the other four units at BNL, which include Basic Energy Sciences, Photon Sciences, Global and Regional Solutions and Environmental and Life Sciences.

The division applies some of its work with gas-filled neutron detectors to national security. His group is developing instruments that can “identify contraband material being brought into the country,” which could include uranium or plutonium, he said. Those materials emit neutrons, which are hard to stop, even for a lead-lined shipping container.

“There are only certain materials in nature that are sensitive to neutrons,” he explained. “Hydrogen and Helium-3 are good at stopping thermal neutrons.”

The instrumentation division at BNL has collaborated with professionals in nonproliferation and national security to build neutron detectors that are many pinhole cameras in a single instrument, which can be placed at ports around the country to look for radioactive objects that generate neutrons.

The instrumentation division is also playing an important part in the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment (or LBNE). The centerpiece of the LBNE will be a liquid argon detector and electronics that BNL’s expertise is making possible, Smith said.

BNL’s Milind Diwan (Power of Three, Jan. 10) has been working closely with the instrumentation group, as well as with the physics, chemistry, accelerator, nuclear engineering and magnet units at BNL.

“The instrumentation division is crucial because they are going to be responsible for the wire chambers and the electronics that must operate at very low temperatures and with a lifetime of several decades without any maintenance,” he explained. “The technological development is far-reaching and extraordinary.”

Diwan is confident the group is up to the task, suggesting that the Instrumentation Division is “considered the best in the world in developing such advanced technologies.”

Smith and his colleagues have also been involved in developing a medical imaging instrument called RatCAP (for Rat Conscious Animal Positron Emission Tomography).

It’s the same principle as a PET scan for humans. The innovation, however, is that it allows an animal to wear the monitor while engaging in its normal activities. Typically, animal PET scans have required anesthesia, to keep an animal still as scientists survey the brain or other areas of the body. The instrumentation group designed and integrated a detector system for annihilation gamma-rays that is compact, lightweight and low power, which benefits from microelectronics.

“When the animal is anesthetized,” suggested Smith, “the brain activity is compromised. The idea is to investigate brain activity without putting the rat under any drug-induced sleep.”

Smith lives in Port Jefferson with his wife, Anne, a teaching assistant at Setauket Elementary School. Their older son, Edward, works in Manhattan in information technology, while their younger son, Michael, is a building manager in Seattle.

The couple enjoy the similarities between the village of Port Jefferson and their home villages in the United Kingdom. They enjoy walking through town, grabbing a cup of coffee, observing the harbor and trekking back.

In addition to the potential professional collaboration with Stony Brook scientists, Smith also appreciates the chance to play squash at the university campus. He met his wife on a squash court when they were at the University of Leicester.

In leading the instrumentation group, Smith said he hopes to continue to create a positive atmosphere that he likens to an extended family.

As for following in the footsteps of William Higinbotham, who invented the video game “Tennis for Two” at BNL in 1958, Smith suggested: “My goal is to provide the motivation for our outstanding staff to continue making significant high technology contributions to new BNL programs, for a better understanding of nature and for an overall benefit to society.”