Building bridges between astrophysics and nuclear medicine

July 13, 2018

BIDS-LLNL Data Science Fellow and Astrophysicist Andreas Zoglauer launches telescopes into the upper stratosphere to observe supernovae, pulsars and black holes. His MEGAlib software toolkit is used to design gamma-ray detectors for astrophysics, environmental monitoring, and cancer treatment.

COSI, the Compton Spectrometer and Imager, is a balloon-borne gamma-ray telescope which was built from ground up at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory. The telescope is designed to detect gamma rays from within our own Milky Way Galaxy and from strong sources beyond.

COSI’s first key science goal is to help us better understand the life-cycle of matter in our Universe: how, where, which, and how many new nuclei are created in stars, novae, supernovae, and mergers.

Its second key science goal is to better understand the processes which govern the most extreme environments in our Universe, such as the regions around black holes or pulsars.

COSI Flight Track

In 2016, COSI had a record-setting 46-day stratospheric balloon flight in 33 km altitude. It was launched from Wanaka, NZ, circumnavigated Antarctica in 14 days, meandered over the southern pacific for 32 more days – drifting only where the winds pushed it. Ultimately, COSI landed safely in a remote location in the Atacama desert in Peru. The detectors were recovered unharmed and are back in Berkeley. They are currently readied for COSI’s next big flight around the world.

Andreas leads the development of the main data analysis toolkit for COSI, called MEGAlib, the Medium-Energy Gamma-ray Astronomy library. MEGAlib encompasses the full analysis pipeline from calibrations, Monte-Carlo simulations, event classification and reconstruction, to high-level data analysis.

However, the library which once started as the toolkit solely for one telescope (one of COSI’s predecessors, “MEGA”) has been more and more generalized over the last years. Nowadays, it is a universal toolkit, which can be applied to many different X-ray and gamma-ray telescopes. This first lead to its application to other astrophysics gamma-ray telescopes, and in other space-sciences fields such as solar physics, and later nuclear science, environmental monitoring, and even nuclear medicine. For example, in astrophysics, MEGAlib was used to optimize the design of NASA NuSTAR telescope, and it was used for simulations and performance estimates of several future envisioned gamma-ray missions, such as AMEGO and eASTROGAM.

In another example, MEGAlib was used to analyze the data gathered by a small gamma-ray detector called HEMI, a joint LBNL and UC Berkeley project. HEMI was flown on a remote controlled helicopter near Fukushima to measure radioactive ground contamination, and MEGAlib was used for the data analysis.

Starting with his tenure as fellow at BIDS, Andreas intensified a collaboration with a group in Munich, Germany, working on medical imaging devices. MEGAlib is used to optimize the design and to analyze the data of a novel three-gamma-ray PET instrument, which in the future could improve upon the resolution of standard PET detectors, and also be used for range verification for proton therapy.

So in the end, what started as the “Medium-Energy Gamma-ray Astronomy“ library has now morphed into the “Medium-Energy Gamma-ray Applications“ library.

Featured Fellows

Andreas Zoglauer

Space Sciences Laboratory