Medical Physics applied to Diagnostics and Therapy
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is a medical imaging tool with a wide range of applications, especially in oncology, cardiology, and neurology. The research activity of the Bicocca group is carried out in the framework of the Crystal Clear Collaboration, an international collaboration led by CERN, linking 27 European Universities and Research Institutes. The research is focused on the development of innovative detectors, capable of improving the quality of medical images provided by PET machines. This has allowed the group to play in the last years a central role in the transfer towards medical applications of technologies developed for high precision timing measurements in high energy physics experiments.
Physics Applied to the Environment
PIGNOLETTO: Environmental monitoring and precision agriculture using remote systems
PIGNOLETTO is a project that combines different skills present in the area applied to the theme of sustainability.
Nowadays, having a detailed knowledge of the characteristics of the soil is very important for increasing the quality and efficiency of crops (precision agriculture), with a positive impact on reducing costs and environmental impact. In fact, managing the soil according to the characteristics of the soil and the crop, allows to better dose the mechanical processing, fertilization, weeding, irrigation and resources dedicated to harvesting.
The challenge of PIGNOLETTO is therefore to collect the soil characteristics and cross this information to obtain detailed maps that are much more accurate than the current ones, and with the possibility of a greater frequency in the repetition of the surveys. Today detailed cartography typically reaches the scale of 1:50,000. In order to better implement precision agriculture, it would be necessary to approach the scale of 1:1,000 - 1:2,000. To achieve this, a new approach is required, which is what PIGNOLETTO proposes.
The analysis of the characteristics of the soils and the environment that the project wants to provide is multi-scale and based on the combination of multiple approaches and technologies:
- Remote sensing (satellites, drones);
- Proximal sensing (rover);
- Field measurements;
- Advanced data processing techniques
The implementation and testing of various innovative technologies, ranging from the realization of airborne sensors such as optical hyperspectral, thermal multispectral and gamma radiation detectors, to specialized electronics for drones and satellites, up to validation in the laboratory of the measurements carried out remotely, will be key elements for the success of the project.
The result of the union of expertise present in Lombardia in the aerospace and agri-food sectors will give life to a HUB of scientific, industrial and technological skills in the field of development and use of territorial monitoring systems ranging from system architecture to the single observation, by means of remotely piloted devices. The synergy between two research institutions and six companies in the area - also supported by various departments of the Università di Milano - Bicocca - aims to be a strong point for the activation of a platform that will allow triggering a virtuous process of technological growth, with positive implications for economic development and territorial sustainability. The flexibility and potential of this system are very broad and it can be adapted to the actual needs of end users, whether they are public or private bodies and organizations.
The study of elements within Alpine and Antarctic ice cores involves extremely sensitive instrumentation for the determination of trace elements. In this context, the application of nuclear techniques such as neutron activation, mass spectrometry, gamma spectrometry and liquid scintillation, allow to obtain very relevant results in the study of the source areas and the determination of specific reference of the major events of dispersion of radioactive contaminants (3H and 137Cs) in the environment (nuclear explosions of 1963 and Chernobyl 1986).
The analysis of radioactive contaminations in the environment is carried out through gamma spectroscopy measurements with germanium detectors. This technique allows to analyze the radionuclides dispersed by the fall-out generated by tests on nuclear devices, accidental releases by nuclear power plants as in the Fukushima case or accidents in fuel reprocessing plants.
Physics Applied to cultural heritage
Among the various branches of applied physics, the one related to cultural heritage is historically present in the Physics Department.
Several investigation techniques are used, based on physical methods, for example neutron activation analysis, mass spectrometry (ICP-MS and TIMS), alpha, beta and gamma spectrometry, neutron spectroscopies (such as diffraction, imaging and resonant capture). The research focuses on the characterization of materials of historical and artistic interest, both in the laboratories of the department and in large scale facilities in Italy (LENA-UNIPV, LNGS-INFN) and abroad (ISIS/RAL-UK, PSI-CH, BNC-H, ESS-S).
R&D activities are carried out in collaboration with INFN and in particular with the cultural heritage network CHNET, of which the INFN section of Milano Bicocca is a first level node.
Through the CHNET_TANDEM experiment two new analytical techniques are being implemented: muon spectrometry (at the ISIS/RAL-UK laboratory) and prompt gamma neutron activation analysis (at LENA-UNIPV).
We are collaborating with the CNR - ISTP regarding neutron spectroscopy (contact person: Enrico Perelli Cippo) and we are collaborating with the University of Sassari for the characterization of the S. Imbenia archaeological site (M. Carpinelli, M. Rendeli, V. Sipala, P. Oliva).
Neutron field characterization
This research activity developed from a project aimed at studying nuclear fission reactors. In this project, we implemented a detailed model to analyze the neutronics and the fuel burnup of the TRIGA Mark II research reactor of the University of Pavia. This study allowed to identify a new core configuration characterized by a more efficient use of the nuclear fuel.
All this was possible thanks to the development of Monte Carlo simulation models, carefully validated by experimental measurements conducted at the Pavia reactor. For this purpose, we developed an experimental technique for the characterization of neutron fields, based on activation measurements (including the irradiation of different samples and the subsequent gamma spectroscopy analysis with germanium detectors)
and on a Bayesian algorithm that allows to estimate the neutron fluxes in the different regions of the energy spectrum.
This technique was then applied for the characterization of other neutron fields, used for studying and testing the radiation damage on electronic devices. In this context, it is necessary to reconstruct the spectral fluences with high accuracy in order to correctly estimate the dose imparted to the device in the various irradiation tests. In particular, the measurement technique and the Bayesian analysis of neutron activation data
allowed to characterize two irradiation facilities of the TRIGA RC-1 reactor of the ENEA-Casaccia research center and two beamlines of the ISIS spallation source of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (UK).
SOURIRE laboratory will be mainly intended for scientific research and includes an equipped area inside the U19 building for the installation of a 14 MeV neutron source. The foreseen applications are many and range from the development of new experimental methods for the detection of neutrons, to the calibration of neutron detectors, to the theoretical and experimental research on the thermohydraulic behavior of two-phase mixtures in helical tubes, to the modeling of components for nuclear reactors, the study of neutron fluxes and cross-sections for applications with fourth generation reactors, the characterization of the particulate present in ice cores, the implementation, development and optimization of new non-invasive and non-destructive techniques to be used in the archaeometry for the elemental characterization of artifacts.