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Posts Tagged ‘R&D’

This 4-meter-long quadrupole coil recently achieved the ultimate magnetic-field strength expected for niobium tin coils of this design. Credit: Fermilab

This month, scientists are celebrating the centennial of the discovery of superconductivity, a fundamental phenomenon that has made possible the newest achievement in Fermilab’s Technical Division.

Shortly before the anniversary, researchers with the laboratory’s High Field Magnet (HFM) program successfully demonstrated optimal performance of a 4-meter-long niobium tin quadrupole coil in the temperature range from 1.9 to 4.6 Kelvin.

The achievement is an important milestone toward developing niobium tin magnets as a viable technology for accelerators.

“We’ve finally achieved the ultimate niobium tin coil performance,” said Alexander Zlobin, head of the HFM program.

Magnet coils in accelerators such as the Tevatron and the Large Hadron Collider are made of niobium titanium. Scientists would like to ramp up accelerators’ magnetic-field strength by instead using niobium tin, a brittle but more highly superconducting material.

Since 2005 Fermilab scientists have conducted niobium tin studies in support of the LHC Accelerator Research Program (LARP), a U.S. collaboration that contributes R&D for LHC upgrades. One of LARP’s goals is to demonstrate by 2014 that the technology is a good option for the LHC.

To that end, the HFM group has been experimenting with new processes for making quadrupole coils.

In recent months, the HFM group developed new coil insulation. They also redesigned the conductor previously used in LARP’s long quadrupole magnet by implementing twice as many smaller-diameter niobium tin filaments.

The Fermilab-developed and -assembled mirror structure used in tests of 4-meter-long niobium tin quadrupole coil. In a quadrupole mirror structure, three of the four poles are iron blocks rather than coils. The design produces conditions close to the real magnet but drastically reduces cost and processing time. Credit: Fermilab

After many tests using shorter coils and a so-called mirror structure, they tested the new niobium tin conductor and insulation in a 4-meter-long LARP quadrupole coil.

The group achieved a stable field of 12.3 Tesla at 4.5 Kelvin. At 1.9 Kelvin, they achieved a stable 13.3 Tesla.

“The small filaments worked great,” said Giorgio Ambrosio, leader of the LARP long-quadrupole program. “Once you make this technology available for accelerator magnets, it can be used for the LHC, a muon collider, or a neutrino factory. It can be used anywhere.”

–Leah Hesla

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View this animation to see how Fermilab's Project X would be integrated into the laboratory's Accelerator Complex.

This story first appeared in Fermilab Today April 12.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, U.S. nuclear power plants have produced roughly 70,000 tons of radioactive waste over the last four decades. By 2025, scientists expect the amount of wa ste to be roughly 100,000 tons. The nuclear industry faces an ever-increasing waste problem, and Fermilab’s proposed Project X is developing the technologies that may contribute to a solution.

Last week at AccApp’11, an accelerator applications conference hosted by the American Nuclear Society and the International Atomic Energy Agency, Fermilab’s David Johnson explained how Project X could demonstrate the technologies required for accelerator-driven nuclear waste treatments.

“Fermilab has proposed the construction of a high-power proton linac for support of our high-energy physics program, and we are exploring the possibility to expand the application of the project to nuclear physics and energy applications,” Johnson said.

Project X is a proposed high-intensity proton accelerator complex that would support experiments in neutrino and rare processes physics. By using highly efficient superconducting radio frequency cavities, the technology of choice for next-generation accelerators, Project X would create a continuous-wave beam of protons. While the Project X mission is focused on particle physics, the beam that will be produced has uses that go beyond particle physics. The continuous-wave beam—as opposed to a pulsed one—makes it possible for Project X to also support experiments validating assumptions that underlie accelerator-driven waste treatment concepts. It would also demonstrate the associated accelerator and target technologies, Johnson said.

By hitting a lead-bismuth target with protons, a high-power, continuous-wave linac would create fast, or highly energetic neutrons. These fast neutrons would burn up the dangerous radioactive elements in nuclear waste, significantly reducing its half-life. In order to meet the requirements for treating nuclear waste on the industrial scale, the accelerator must operate reliably with virtually no downtime. Johnson explained that by advancing technologies and producing stable accelerator operations, Project X could serve as a proof of concept for the application.

“We would like to get the nuclear community excited about this potential facility,” Johnson said. “We welcome any and all participation.”

- Elizabeth Clements

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Allen Rusy (left) and Dan Turrioni, from the Superconductor R&D Group, inspect the cabling machine used to make Nb3Al superconducting cable. Credit: Fermilab/Reidar Hahn

One hundred years ago, in April 1911, Dutch scientist Kamerlingh Onnes discovered superconductivity. While investigating the electrical resistance of pure mercury at very low temperatures, Onnes discovered that mercury’s resistance dropped suddenly to zero in the vicinity of 4.2 Kelvin (see graphic). Scientists found that similar transitions happened in other metals and dubbed the phenomenon superconductivity.

Since 1911, we have discovered superconductors among chemical elements, alloys, ceramics and organic materials that can carry very strong electric currents without electrical resistance. These materials are perfect for developing powerful magnets and other applications. Their development and our improved understanding of superconductivity have paved the way for applications such as superconducting magnets in accelerators, MRI devices and levitating trains; various electrical power applications; and new particle acceleration devices known as superconducting radio-frequency cavities.

Fermilab has a long history of forefront research in the field of superconducting accelerator magnets. In addition, the laboratory has been involved in developing and testing superconducting RF cavities made of niobium for many years (see this article in Symmetry magazine.

The Superconductor R&D Group in the Technical Division’s Magnet Systems Department works on new materials and technologies for superconducting accelerator magnets for various Fermilab and multi-laboratory projects. It has the equipment and expertise needed for cable fabrication, small coil winding, strand and cable testing, strand processing and material studies. Our experts work closely with industry to improve the superconductor’s performance and collaborate with other laboratories and universities to improve the fundamental understanding of strands, cables and magnets. The outcome of this work provides material specifications and engineering data for accelerator magnet design and construction.

For the LHC luminosity upgrades, we are developing robust and cost-effective accelerator magnets with 11-15 Tesla magnetic fields. We are using niobium-three-tin (Nb3Sn), a low-temperature superconductor that is widely used for high-field solenoids and other types of magnets in fusion, solid-state physics and other fields of research. This material can produce stronger magnetic fields than the niobium-titanium conductor used in the Tevatron and LHC magnets, but it requires a completely different magnet fabrication technology. We also have worked with niobium-three-aluminum. In 2010, Fermilab scientists and their collaborators in Japan won the prestigious Superconductor Science and Technology Prize for their investigation of a highly strain-tolerant Nb3Al cable. This work continues in collaboration with CERN.

Our long-term goals include superconducting magnets with magnetic fields above 20 Tesla for a possible Muon Collider and

From left, scientists Ryuji Yamada, Emanuela Barzi, Akihiro Kikuchi and Alexander Zlobin stand behind the small racetrack coil made of the new Nb3A1 conductor. Credit: Fermilab/Reidar Hahn

LHC energy upgrades. Such magnets will require materials outside of the niobium family. Our group is studying high-temperature superconductors such as Bi-2212 round wires and YBCO tapes. This work has the potential for very high impact on the future Energy Frontier activities in high-energy physics.

Thank you, Dr. Onnes, for getting this all started. In your honor, various organizations will host events across the world.

– Emanuela Barzi

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–by T. “Isaac” Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning and Communications

We worked last week to finalize and submit a position paper to the Government of Canada as part of their “Expert Review Panel on Federal Support to Research & Development.”  Our thesis was that national laboratories, especially those that span the spectrum from basic research to applied technology, are a natural environment for the academic scientists to mingle with hard-nosed business people…the result — better understanding, more-aligned expectations, and ultimately, easier partnerships for identifying the good ideas and taking them to market.

So, for fun, here are some excerpts from our contentions.

One of the compelling drivers for public investment in research and development is the hoped-for outcome of economic growth through innovation, knowledge transfer, and commercialization of new products or technologies. The natural timescales for these benefits are often much longer than individual businesses can afford. In the modern world of the 21st century, nations are increasingly concerned about optimizing these economic benefits of R&D for their own citizens as well as competing successfully with other countries around the world.

A national laboratory with good networks and open-access policies provides a fertile environment for business innovation to get started.  That is, when businesses frequently and informally intersect with academic research, the likelihood of a firm choosing innovation as a business strategy greatly improves.  Most businesses get started with one or two ideas—tunnel vision is then required to get them from the garage to full-market penetration.  By interacting with a laboratory, businesses are exposed to the broader spectrum of technologies and skills ancillary to their original product.

For instance, with TRIUMF’s long history of medical-isotope production with Nordion and strong academic connections to the UBC Department of Chemistry, it was natural for Nordion to return to TRIUMF and its research partners to develop new radiochemical products in a cost-shared approach that took advantage of a Government of Canada program that matches a public dollar with each private-sector dollar to support joint research.  A preliminary patent on a new product has just been filed.

Businesses need to perform some of their own R&D.  We are not in the golden age of the last century where monolithic corporations could afford elite research labs that drove breakthrough after breakthrough from the lab bench to the marketplace.  More and more, the model for big-business innovation and product development is to partner with the best teams around the world.  For instance, General Electric’s medical-cyclotron division based in northern Europe came to TRIUMF in Canada in 2009 to discuss options for partnering on the development of a third-generation cyclotron that would be unit-sized and operate at the push of a button on a table-top.

Today’s world separates “pre-competitive R&D” and “competitive R&D” where the “R” in the latter is much less than the “D.”  Pre-competitive R&D takes place before high-value intellectual property is developed and is typically performed in a collaborative partnership.  Because pre-competitive R&D has shared benefits, it typically uses shared resources and shared talents with regular participation of public funds.  Businesses regularly seek competitive leveraging of their funds with public monies on their topics of interest.

The next two steps after precompetitive R&D are tricky:  (1) Determining when the research is moving into competitive technology development and (2) Performing the competitive R&D.  The first person to say that a technology is ready for field testing and commercialization is likely the academic; the last person to say that a technology is ready for market analysis and commercialization is likely the business partner.  In between these extremes is the so-called “valley of death.”  Pitched in these terms, however, the challenge is not just technological—it is one of communication and understanding.  The second tricky part, performing the R&D in an IP-protecting fashion that respects the proprietary nature of the work, is more feasible and usually requires a high degree of focus.  Experience is the best teacher here and thus businesses engaged in R&D need to mix with each other as well academia.

Businesses need to be involved in performing their own proprietary R&D and in partnering with selected teams on it.  This capability allows them (a) to stay abreast of the market and even develop their own forecasting abilities, and (b) to more quickly deploy new technologies and products.  Today’s globalized world doesn’t allow much time for “catch up.”  If the competition releases a new product or feature, depending on the industry, you have six months or even just six days to respond.

In Canada, the national laboratories and several public-sector programs (e.g., CECRs) are becoming more effective at lowering this initial barrier to relatedness and understanding.  Laboratories are in regular communication and contact with businesses as vendors, customers, and sponsors.  Businesses work with engineers and technical staff at laboratories to build and deliver one-of-a-kind equipment and often have informal consultations with key laboratory staff about new product ideas or performance constraints.  Academic researchers relate to laboratories as meeting grounds and expert resources for technical projects.  Driven by budgets and promised milestones, laboratories deliver progress and performance on a schedule.  Taken together, these attributes can make national laboratories a natural nexus for businesses and universities to get to know each other and to work alongside one another.

What do YOU think?  Do national laboratories play a unique or critical role in the national “ecosystem” for imagination, invention, or innovation?

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