The little DAQ that could – 10th anniversary of the Series 6000 DAQ

Ten years ago, Fermilab engineer Sten Hansen and engineering associate Terry Kiper undertook the task of improving the data acquisition circuit board (DAQ) used in the QuarkNet cosmic ray muon detector kit distributed to high school physics teachers and their students. QuarkNet was about five years old and had been using older DAQ models in high schools to monitor cosmic ray showers. Once the new model was approved by Dave Hoppert, the QuarkNet technician who manages production of the detector kits, the new design schematics and bill of materials were sent by Johnny Green, Fermilab fabrication specialist, to local manufacturers to have the circuit boards made and “stuffed” with board components.

The first production run in May 2007 was for 90 boards. The new model was designated the Series 6000 DAQ with GPS. To date 800 DAQs have been produced.

Hundreds of QuarkNet students use a detector to study cosmic rays, doing their own data analysis using the online software tools in the QuarkNet Cosmic Ray e-Lab. The boards worked well for the QuarkNet teachers and started catching on with interested parties outside of Fermilab. Soon there were Series 6000 boards in use for the outreach programs at other major laboratories such as DESY in Germany, JINR in Russia, TRIUMF in Canada and the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark.

For 10 years, this Series 6000 DAQ has been enabling hundreds of QuarkNet students to study cosmic rays and conduct their own data analysis using online software tools in the QuarkNet Cosmic Ray e-Lab. Photo: Reidar Hahn

The DAQ is part of the Cosmic Ray Interactive Laboratory, a hands-on exhibit created at the University of Notre Dame, which is on display at CERN and at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium. Also, the Perimeter Institute in Canada and the Pierre Auger Laboratory in Argentina have displays in visitor areas using the DAQ. There are two DAQ-based displays at Fermilab: the “Take a Cosmic Ray Shower” exhibit at the Lederman Center and the display on the Wilson Hall 15th-floor crossover.

Overall, the Series 6000 DAQ has been put to good use in over 30 countries worldwide. Universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Taiwan and others use the DAQ for their own research and outreach activities. As a result of so many requests, a license for using the DAQ is now available, offered through the Fermilab Office of Partnerships and Technology Transfer.

With a few tweaks over the years to the hardware design and firmware, the little Series 6000 DAQ has endured for 10 years, a useful and high-quality product found all around the world.

QuarkNet has been supported by grants the National Science Foundation and by the DOE Office of High Energy Physics.

Marge Bardeen is spokesperson and co-PI of the QuarkNet collaboration and the former head of the Fermilab Office of Education. David Hoppert is the technician and production manager for QuarkNet cosmic ray muon detector kits.