CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world's largest and most respected centers for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out the structure of matter and therefore what the Universe is made of and how it works. Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. It is one of Europe's first joint ventures and now has 20 Member States.
The reason I'm waffling on about this is that I just now heard about an award ceremony in Geneva on the 4th April 2008, in which Xilinx was honored with the ALICE Industrial Collaboration Award for its contributions in support of research into particle physics at CERN's newly commissioned Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's most powerful sub-atomic particle accelerator.
Professor Volker Lindenstruth, of the University of Heidelberg, presented the award on behalf of the ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) team in recognition of the central role played by Xilinx Virtex-4 FX field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) in the core measurement instrumentation.
The ALICE Industrial Collaboration Award conferred on Xilinx.
"We have worked closely with Xilinx and its leading engineers for over a decade," said Professor Volker Lindenstruth. "Without the high-speed performance of the Virtex-4 devices and their active dynamic reconfiguration capability, combined with low latency serial links and high-speed LVDS interconnectivity, this project would not have been possible."
"We are proud to receive this award from such a prestigious organization," said Patrick Lysaght, senior director of Xilinx Research Labs. "It is very exciting to see the power of Xilinx Virtex-4 FX FPGAs being exploited by ALICE and Professor Lindenstruth's team to enable experiments that will play such a key role in understanding the mysteries of the universe."
Large Hadron Collider and ALICE
Considered the "most ambitious scientific undertaking on earth", the Large Hadron Collider is the world's largest and most complex scientific instrument, housed in a 27- km tunnel, 100 m beneath the French-Swiss border, near Geneva. It is a sub-atomic particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things.
It's a long walk to the entrance if you forget to bring your lunch.
The aim of the experiment is to smash protons or heavy ions moving practically at the speed of light into each other and so recreate conditions that existed a fraction of a second after the "Big Bang". It promises to revolutionize our understanding from the miniscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the universe.
Patrick Lysaght (left) and Prof. Lindenstruth (right).
Two beams of atomic particles called 'hadrons' – either protons or lead ions – will travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy with every lap. Physicists will use the LHC to collide the two beams head-on at very high energy. Teams of scientists from around the world will analyze the particles created in the collisions using special detectors in a number of experiments dedicated to the LHC.
The role of Xilinx Virtex-4 FX FPGAs
When the counter-rotating beams of hadrons collide at extremely high energies they create a storm of sub-atomic particles. The ALICE experiment uses special photo-detectors to monitor the particles generated by the collisions. These instruments can measure the position of the thousands of particle trajectories, generated in every collision, to a fraction of a millimeter.
At the heart of the ALICE experiment is an array of 540 parallel particle detectors, which are read out by 1080 optical links. When a detector senses an impact, it digitizes its 1.2 million analogue signals and transfers pre-computed track segments over fiber-optic links for global processing of the complete event.
A single link can generate up to 2500 megabits/second yielding a maximum data rate of 2.7 terabits per second which is processed by a collection of 120 Xilinx Virtex-4 FX FPGAs. One XC4VFX100 device in each of 90 Track Matching Units (TMUs) performs the first level processing and data reduction simultaneously and independently. Each FPGA uses twelve multi-gigabit transceivers for data input and processes and classifies the track data on the fly.
The remaining FPGAs are connected in a tree structure to higher-level modules, where the final trigger decision is performed by the FPGA at the top of the tree. The complete system is capable of fitting and selecting more than 20,000 track parameters within a microsecond. Each XC4VFX100 FPGA has two embedded IBM PowerPC microprocessors, one of which runs the Linux operating system. The PowerPC processors perform system verification and housekeeping.