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Fabrizio Murtas (1962 – 2022)

home.cern,Life at CERN

The end of the summer bereaved us of our loyal colleague and dear friend Fabrizio, who passed away unexpectedly and far too soon on 25 August, while on holiday in his beloved Sardinia.

Fabrizio started his career as a research physicist in the ALEPH collaboration at LEP, while working for the INFN National Laboratory in Frascati. He then participated in the construction of the calorimeter for the KLOE detector at Frascati’s newly built accelerator, DAFNE. Fascinated by particle detectors, he devoted most of his career to the development of new tracking devices, paying special attention to their applications in industry and society. He was firmly convinced that one of the key roles of fundamental science is to foster the development of technologies that can improve human life. In 2010, the UA9 experiment at CERN’s SPS was entering the mature phase of advanced beam steering investigations. Novel detectors were required to boost the discovery potential and imaginative experts with a wide span of competences were sorely needed. Fabrizio responded enthusiastically to the call and moved to Geneva on a permanent basis. His competence and imagination in proposing more powerful detectors, based on his deep understanding of particle interactions with bent crystals, were matched only by his tenacity in pursuing demanding goals. His ability to create profound friendships and to handle conflictual situations were most appreciated by the collaboration. Fabrizio then joined the newly created Special Project section of CERN’s Radiation Protection group, where he worked on many different projects and supervised many students and fellows. His main contribution was GEMPix, which he built by combining two CERN technologies, a triple-GEM and the Timepix ASIC. The seed of the idea dates back to a workshop held at CNAO (the Italian Centre for Oncological Hadrontherapy in Pavia) in October 2012, where quality assurance (QA) instrumentation for particle therapy was thoroughly discussed. The idea to merge these two technologies and combine their advantages to build a gaseous detector with a highly pixelated readout in order to achieve superior spatial resolution unfolded rapidly, leading Fabrizio to design and build the first GEMPix prototypes in March 2013; they were then tested at the CNAO beamline. The detector proved very successful and has found many applications, such as measuring traces of Fe-55 in weakly radioactive waste at CERN. Later, Fabrizio contributed to developing a larger area version of the device by replacing the Timepix ASIC with a TFT (thin film transistor) backplane, and a version called GEMTEQ for microdosimetry. He was about to start working on GEMPix4, a version using the new Timepix4 ASIC, when he left us. He also contributed to RaDoM (radon dose monitor), a radon detector able to determine the dose to the lung rather than its concentration in air, which has been licensed to a CERN spin-off company. His firm belief in the importance of the societal applications of detector technologies led him to invest a lot of time in a variety of such projects, such as W-MON (waste monitoring), a distributed network of small radiation sensors developed to monitor potentially weakly radioactive items in waste containers, and a GEM- and Timepix-based beam monitor for beam alignment at the CERF (CERN-EU radiation facility) in the North Area, where radiation detectors and dosimeters for aircrew monitoring are tested. He was one of the pioneers of the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) at CERN and collaborated closely with the IT department to deploy such technology. The GEM-based fast and thermal neutron detectors that he developed with the Università di Milano-Bicocca and CNR for the n_TOF collaboration have been employed at the SPIDER facility, a fundamental step towards the heating system of ITER’s tokamak, as well as at ISIS and ESS (international spallation neutron sources). One of Fabrizio’s fundamental contributions was the idea of developing a custom ASIC for GEM detectors, the GEMINI, which is now widely used. Fabrizio’s novel ideas, such as the Multi-Boron GEM detector, will also be used in future experiments at ISIS. Fabrizio brought to n_TOF a great deal of experience in detection systems, which was especially useful for the experiment’s neutron beam characterisation (energy, profile, resolution) work. Timepix Quads, Diamondpix, SiC and MBGEM were his toys of choice and greatly helped the collaboration during the commissioning of the new (third-generation) spallation target, when the accelerator complex restarted after LS2. Furthermore, Fabrizio took a leading role as co-spokesperson of a new detection system for the measurements of neutron-induced reactions leading to charged particle emission, within a recently approved collaboration between CERN and INFN Catania.

Fabrizio’s interests spanned the entire spectrum of the scientific endeavour, from its most fundamental aspects to the technological spin-offs to society and its dissemination to the public. We will sorely miss the sailing outings on Lac Léman and the skiing holidays, the genuine Italian dinners and music concerts, the discussions on climate change and how to disseminate science better; we will never forget his gentlemanly manners, and his sweet smile will always shine in our memories. A special thought goes to his three beloved daughters, Safiria, Micol and Greta, and to the rest of his family.

Fair winds, Fabrizio!

His colleagues and friends


Fabrizio’s funeral took place on 29 August in Cagliari. Since he was a passionate and experienced sailor and a devoted father, we have decided to make a donation in his memory to the Peepul sailing school (https://www.peepul.it/), a charity (Onlus) that organises free sailing courses for disabled and marginalised children. The money collected will be used to buy a rescue vessel, which will be named in Fabrizio’s memory. Those who wish to make a donation can do so here: https://gofund.me/a3306414