10. June 2020

100 Custom-made X-ray Detectors to Enable New Science


A 5-minute read

This year, DECTRIS completed its 100th specific solution – the 100th in a series of custom-made detectors that are designed to meet the individual requirements of customers. That is quite a milestone for the team and the company! Below, Benjamin Lüthi, Project Manager for Specific Solutions, shares his impressions of the past 10 years, his team’s inspiration, and what they have all learned on their way to this achievement. 

Benjamin Lüthi at work.

What inspired DECTRIS to start the Specific Solutions program?

Benjamin Lüthi, Project Manager for Specific Solutions at DECTRIS: It was scientists and their determination to improve their experiments further. This occurred back in 2010. The scientific community was fully aware of the capabilities of our PILATUS X-ray detectors, as well as of their advantages over other technologies. However, being eager to push the boundaries of X-ray detection even further, researchers started to envision new experimental setups, for which our standard products back then were not suitable. Vacuum compatibility, low-energy X-ray sensitivity, unusual geometries – customers came to us with their requirements and their contagious enthusiasm. We could not say “No”. So, we started working with them on solutions to meet their individual needs.

Over the past 10 years, you have completed 100 projects. How did the requirements vary from project to project?

Benjamin: In the beginning, the most common requirements were vacuum compatibility and sensitivity to lower-energy X-rays. In fact, the demand for vacuum-compatible detectors was so high that it convinced us to add these features to our standard products as well. Today, almost all DECTRIS detectors can be used in a vacuum. Nowadays, however, we deal mostly with special geometries. For example, a customer might need an L-shaped detector surface with a missing corner for WAXS applications. We also build detectors in different sizes, which comes with its own set of challenges: smaller detectors require shorter modules, while big detectors might have a curvy active area. 

How do you usually approach a Specific Solutions project?

Benjamin: We begin with the customer’s list of requirements. We evaluate the feasibility of the project, related risks, and the effort that will be needed to develop and produce such a detector. If the project is too complex, we do a pre-study in order to be sure that the resulting piece of equipment will meet all the requirements. If needed, we come up with a Plan B. Once the order is placed, we start working with the customer on a detailed design; at this stage, we typically need a few iterations to refine the design. After it is approved, we begin assembling the detector. It is then properly calibrated and tested, much like any other DECTRIS detector.

Who assembles Specific Solutions detectors?

Benjamin: Often, I am the one who does the assembly with the help of my colleagues. That is why I have so much personal connection with each Specific Solutions project.

What was your most challenging project, and how did you overcome the challenges?

Benjamin: Every new project brings its challenges. One project, however, was particularly inspirational: the PILATUS 12M-DLS that was commissioned by the Diamond Light Source (hence the “DLS” in the name). It was one of my first specific solution, and it was a big one. I mean that literally: to this day, it is still the largest detector ever built by DECTRIS. However, its size was not the only challenge we had to address. The specific requirements included operation under a very low vacuum pressure, sensitivity to low-energy X-rays, relatively long data cables to allow for movement in the vacuum chamber, and a cylindrical geometry for the large active area. Back then, achieving the necessary precision of measurement not only on the base-plate, but also on an arch seemed almost impossible. We tackled each of these challenges individually in the feasibility study, conducted multiple tests, and only then were we ready to offer the system to the DLS.

Some of DECTRIS Specific Solutions. 

What did you learn from these 100 Specific Solutions projects?

Benjamin: There were two types of lessons. On the one hand, specific solutions enriched our development: some features, such as vacuum capability, were tested and implemented by us even before they became part of our standard products. All the technical expertise that we gained working on those projects can serve as a basis for future developments. On the other hand, we learned a lot from the scientists and their needs. These insights will help us to stay on track and develop the detectors of the future.

Of the 100 projects, which one is your favorite and why?

Benjamin: I love every single SpeSo (that is what we call them in the company). Each one is different and poses different challenges. The PILATUS 12M-DLS was by far the most challenging, but also a very interesting and rewarding project. At almost 1 meter wide, the PILATUS3 900K-W-ESRF CdTe was also fun to work on. And potential future detectors based on EIGER2 technology are very fascinating, too.

What upcoming projects do you have?

Benjamin: The projects we are currently working on are EIGER2 detectors with various geometries for SOLEIL and ANSTO. Such detectors should fit perfectly into a very specific experimental setup. We are also in the process of developing a detector with the finest possible border on one side so as to minimize the upstream shadow.

What do you like most about Special Solutions projects?

Benjamin: It is rewarding to create a unique piece of equipment that enables new science. Every piece of positive feedback motivates and inspires me, and even within the company, a new specific solution is always a highlight. In addition, I am constantly amazed by our customers’ imagination. I always think, “Now we have done it all!”— but then someone comes up with a new idea and requirements that are even more sophisticated. The team and I are always happy to take on a new challenge.

How do you see Specific Solutions’ future?

Benjamin: It’s bright! Scientists never run out of ideas, and now, with the new EIGER2 platform, we have even more opportunities to make those ideas into reality.

A few words about Benjamin Lüthi, PhD

Benjamin joined DECTRIS in 2010 as a Project Manager for Specific Solutions. With his background in space science and his expert knowledge of optical cameras and vacuum systems, he has worked on multiple custom-made detector solutions, including the PILATUS 1M-PTB (2012, the first SpeSo), the PILATUS 12M-DLS (2014, the largest DECTRIS detector to date), the EIGER 1M-W (2016, the first EIGER-based SpeSo), the PILATUS3 900K-W-ESRF (2019, the widest detector to date), and the EIGER2 4M-DESY (2020, the first EIGER2-based SpeSo).

Related links

Specific Solutions