Lab-Corps is a DOE training program that enable scientists at national labs to spot technologies that have potential for commercialization using a very specific methodology. Patterned after the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program, Lab-Corps involves a six-week rigorous training to teach research scientists how to identify a potential fit through a business model canvas based on lean startup technology.
Both Daniel Bowring and Charles Thangaraj began their Lab-Corps training this week in Golden, Colorado, along with teams from other national labs.
Those of you who follow Fermilab’s accelerator research know that we are leaders in superconducting radio-frequency (SRF) accelerator R&D. At IARC, five different inventions related to the electron gun, radio-frequency acceleration and cooling will be integrated to develop an efficient and compact SRF accelerator that can be skid-mounted inside a truck.
During this program, Daniel and Charles will focus on using such a compact SRF accelerator to identify problems that can be solved in the manufacturing industry focusing on processing elastomers, such as vulcanizing rubber for radial tires Daniel and Charles are extraordinary accelerator physicists, (both Peoples Fellows) and will be the first team from Fermilab to receive funding for the Lab-Corps program. They’ll work to bring Fermilab compact accelerator development closer to a commercialization plan by finding the right fit for the technology. Richard Penning, an experienced business consultant at IARC, will be their industry mentor.
Lab-Corps is funded by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Daniel and Charles will take technology-to-commercialization classes from faculty and industry experts using a specialized curriculum. After spending a week in Colorado, they will make a second, similar trip to Washington, D.C., where they’ll mix with companies and funding agencies.
It’s a very rigorous and demanding program – mornings in the classroom, evenings talking to customers. Even their hiatus at Fermilab between the trips will be loaded with discussions and interviews with industry experts. Like good scientists, if they discover that their initial hypothesis isn’t panning out, they can pivot – look for more appropriate segments for compact accelerators. Or if they find that, to solve the problems posed by industry, they’ll have to retool their accelerator, then they’ll learn the kinds of problems that have to be solved in the lab before compact accelerators can be deployed in the industry.
At the Office of Partnerships and Technology Transfer, we envision a future of great partnerships between accelerator science and industry to solve 21st century challenges. The Lab-Corps program will help scientists and engineers transition their innovations to real world applications and help us identify what other problems could be answered by accelerators.
Lab-Corps gives us at Fermilab a chance to think about research in a new way. Not many people go into particle physics thinking about how to manufacture a better car tire. But why not? By actively leveraging basic science technologies for practical application, we secure our future, and we show the public – who support Fermilab with their tax dollars – that you get benefits beyond fundamental knowledge when you pursue basic science.
I look forward to learning about Daniel and Charles’ findings, and I’m thrilled that they’re leading the way for Fermilab into this new initiative.
And by the way, if you ever have an idea for a technology you think might find a foothold in the market, please just walk through the door at IARC. You never know – your market hypothesis could be spot on.
Cherri J Schmidt is the head of the Fermilab Office of Partnerships and Technology Transfer.