IARC: From vision to action

Today’s IARC article is written by Charles Thangaraj. Charles is a Fermilab accelerator scientist convert to the IARC mission. Armed with an excellent knowledge of accelerators acquired as a doctoral student and as a Peoples Fellow, Charles recently augmented those considerable skills with entrepreneurial and business experience acquired through the DOE Lab-Corps program. Charles is a welcome addition to the IARC team. —Bob Kephart, IARC director

Charles Thangaraj

Charles Thangaraj

My eight-month-old daughter Reanne recently battled through a prolonged sickness. When a half-dozen needles pierced her young skin to deliver life-saving antibiotics, what kept me somewhat sane was knowing that the needles were attached to sterile syringes.

At IARC, I am part of a team with a mission to radically change — even disrupt — the way those syringes and similar medical devices will be sterilized in the future. We are designing an industrial accelerator based on SRF technology that eliminates the use of radioactive isotopes like cobalt-60, which represents an ongoing security risk. We are in discussion with the manufacturers to understand and eventually remove the impediments to adopt our cost-effective sterilization technology. This is just one of the many active projects at IARC.

IARC is also working with the Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) toward electron beam treatment of biosolids from municipal waste and remediation of waste water. MWRD is one of the world’s largest organizations processing municipal wastewater, serving approximately 5 million people in 125 municipalities.

These two projects are leading examples of how IARC will be a strategic player in the emerging “solution economy” of the 21st century. We bring together accelerator technologies developed at Fermilab for discovery science to solve our shared societal and business goals.

A centerpiece of IARC efforts is the development of a compact SRF industrial accelerator. This platform technology can enable compact, high-power, truck-mountable electron accelerators with many applications, including nondestructive testing and cargo inspection; long-life cross-linked pavements; instant cure coatings; in-situ environmental remediation; phytosanitation to kill insects on fruits and vegetables; and in-situ decontamination and medical sterilization.

IARC has already attracted a great deal of interest in the cross-linked pavement application from the U.S. Army and in the security application from the Department of Homeland Security Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. And yet, recently we found one more application.

Funding agencies and future partners recently met at IMRP 2016, Vancouver, Canada. From left: Charles Thangaraj (Fermilab), Joyce Hansen (Johnson & Johnson), Kristin Hirsch (NNSA), Malika Taalbi (NNSA), Lisa Karan (NIST), Bob Kephart (Fermilab). IMRP is the biannual meeting of the International Irradiation Association and hosts the largest collection of users of radiation technology for industry and medicine. Photo courtesy of Charles Thangaraj

Funding agencies and future partners recently met at IMRP 2016, Vancouver, Canada. From left: Charles Thangaraj (Fermilab), Joyce Hansen (Johnson & Johnson), Kristin Hirsch (NNSA), Malika Taalbi (NNSA), Lisa Karan (NIST), Bob Kephart (Fermilab). IMRP is the biannual meeting of the International Irradiation Association and hosts the largest collection of users of radiation technology for industry and medicine. Photo courtesy of Charles Thangaraj

This summer, I was fortunate to be a part of the IARC team to participate in the DOE Lab-Corps program. The program is a focused training curriculum designed to help accelerate the transfer of technologies developed at the national labs into the commercial marketplace. It was a thrilling experience. We met people from local small businesses, big companies, state and federal agencies, and even visited Illinois Senator Randy Hultgren’s office in Washington, D.C.

As part of the program, we identified an enormous market potential for the SRF compact accelerator in the metal additive manufacturing (3-D printing) industry. Did you know electron beams are already used to print parts of jet engines? The sheer power of the compact SRF accelerator could enable large throughput and expand the size and range of materials to be used in metal additive manufacturing. So are we just explorers looking for electron beam applications? No, we are much more. We build our own ships.

At IARC, we are undertaking all the research and development required to build compact SRF accelerators. Building a SRF compact accelerator is a bit like making the first iPhone. Many different technologies are innovatively combined to make this dream machine a reality: the breakthroughs in niobium-tin coated cavities, the idea of conduction cooling enabled by modern cryocoolers, the invention of a cheap injection-locked magnetron, a coin-sized cathode and others. At Fermilab we have a bold legacy of building accelerators on advanced technologies. The Tevatron is a prime example. It is not a coincidence that we are building the compact SRF accelerator at the old CDF experimental hall. You will find the same esprit de corps.

This was a very active year at IARC, with a flurry of activity. As many have noticed, new people have moved into the Office, Technical and Engineering Building this year. Parking lots are filling up. New wings and floors are materializing at the IARC complex Heavy Assembly Building. We are growing. But next year will be even busier. We expect a lot of activity, productivity and funding.

Following the ancient South Indian Tamil custom, I would like to end with a provincial proverb transposed to colder Chicago. When it is cold, you can either wear a coat or light a fire. Wear a coat, you warm yourself. Light a fire, you warm many. At IARC, we plan to share our warmth and reinvigorate many through Fermilab developed technologies. Together, we can forge ahead to new frontiers.

Happy new year. Stay warm.

Jayakar “Charles” Tobin Thangaraj is a Fermilab scientist working at the intersection of accelerator science, technology, innovation and partnerships.