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Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

This article appeared in Fermilab Today on Nov. 3, 2014.

A team from the Accelerator Division has successfully powered this small SRF cavity with a magnetron. Now they aim to power a large, application-specific model. Photo: Brian Chase, AD

A team from the Accelerator Division has successfully powered this small SRF cavity with a magnetron. Now they aim to power a large, application-specific model. Photo: Brian Chase, Fermilab

If you own a magnetron, you probably use it to cook frozen burritos. The device powers microwave ovens by converting electricity into electromagnetic radiation. But Fermilab engineers believe they’ve found an even better use. They’ve developed a new technique to use a magnetron to power a superconducting radio-frequency (SRF) cavity, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the construction and operating costs of future linear accelerators.

The technique is far from market-ready, but recent tests with Accelerator Division RF Department-developed components at the Fermilab AZero test facility have proven that the idea works. Team leaders Brian Chase and Ralph Pasquinelli have, with Fermilab’s Office of Partnerships and Technology Transfer, applied for a patent and are looking for industrial partners to help scale up the process.

Both high-energy physics and industrial applications could benefit from the development of a high-power, magnetron-based RF station. The SRF cavity power source is a major cost of accelerators, but thanks to a long manufacturing history, accelerator-scale magnetrons could be mass-produced at a fraction of the cost of klystrons and other technologies typically used to generate and control radio waves in accelerators.

“Instead of paying $10 to $15 per watt of continuous-wave RF power, we believe that we can deliver that for about $3 per watt,” Pasquinelli said.

That adds up quickly for modern projects like Fermilab’s Proton Improvement Plan II, with more than 100 cavities, or the proposed International Linear Collider, which will call for about 15,000 cavities requiring more than 3 billion watts of pulsed RF power. The magnetron design is also far more efficient than klystrons, further driving down long-term costs.

The magnetron project members are, from left: Brian Chase, Ed Cullerton, Ralph Pasquinelli and Philip Varghese. Photo: Elvin Harms, Fermilab

The magnetron project members are, from left: Brian Chase, Ed Cullerton, Ralph Pasquinelli and Philip Varghese. Photo: Elvin Harms, Fermilab

But the straightforward idea wasn’t without obstacles.

“For an accelerator, you need very precise control of the amplitude and the phase of the signal,” Chase said. That’s on the order of 0.01 percent accuracy. Magnetrons don’t normally allow this kind of control.

One solution, Chase realized, is to apply a well-known mathematical expression known as a Bessel function, developed in the 19th century for astronomical calculations. Chase repurposed the function for the magnetron’s phase modulation scheme, which allowed for a high degree of control over the signal’s amplitude. Similar possible solutions to the amplitude problem use two magnetrons, but doubling most of the hardware would mean negating potential savings.

“Our technique uses one magnetron, and we use this modulation scheme, which has been known for almost a hundred years. It’s just never been put together,” Pasquinelli said. “And we came in thinking, ‘Why didn’t anyone else think of that?'”

Chase and Pasquinelli are now working with Bob Kephart, director of the Illinois Accelerator Research Center, to find an industry partner to help them develop their idea. Inexpensive, controlled RF power is already needed in certain medical equipment, and according to Kephart, driving down the costs will allow new applications to surface, such as using accelerators to clean up flue gas or sterilizing municipal waste.

“The reason I’m not retired is that I want to build this prototype,” Pasquinelli said. “It’s a solution to a real-world problem, and it will be a lot of fun to build the first one.”

Troy Rummler

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–by Nigel S. Lockyer, Director

[Ed. Note: This is the third of a three-part series penned by Nigel on his trip to India in early March 2011.]

Day 4 (March 2, 2011): I start the day with tea in a small paper cup delivered to the room. Tastes great. Time for Tim and I to go for our morning walk around the VECC site…takes about 30 minutes. Talk about yesterday’s talks. Today we go to the conference Frontiers in Science, being held at the Taj Bengal Hotel in downtown Kolkata.

The sessions were interesting with a mix of physics, nuclear power, biology, business, and social perspectives. I sensed the passion and realization by the Indian presenters that they had a duty to address the country’s immense social challenges. This came up time and time again. Put simply, how does one justify spending millions of dollars on a science project when people outside are living in extreme poverty? One thing came across is that India is proud of its accomplishments and is up for the challenge. They recognize they must be more global…they are overly insular at the moment was the consensus.

I presented my talk on Canadian Science Policy. After listening to people’s comments, I think more strongly than ever that Canada has a plan for science…maybe we are not all in agreement with the plan, but we have a plan.

After the presentations were complete (only a hour and half behind schedule), we headed off to the dinner reception at The Bengal Club about 15 minutes away. The edifice was referred to as the last vestige of the Raj. We got into a discussion about what the “Britishers” brought to India…besides cricket, the language, tea, and the obvious stuff. One view that emerged, which may be controversial…1) The British united India by providing a common enemy. 2) British scholars (Sir William Jones) created the Asiatic Society in the 1784 and out of which came “Indology”, the study of the ancient Indian history. 3) They brought modern science at the same time as it was exploding in England, just after Newton and the rapid growth of industrialization. Another discussion was about picking tea. The conference organizer, Mr. Deb, picked tea as a teenager. He called it a garden but it was several hundred acres…a big garden. Bottom line is that “two and a bud” are the leaves that make the best tea.

Day 5: Start the day as usual with tea and a walk, breakfast and .. come back and there is a lizard in my room. I pretty much freeze and declare the room to be the lizard’s and bow out…off to the conference. I chaired the first session. One of the more interesting talks was by Aniruddha Lahiri, the President of the Chatterjee Group of Companies. He started his presentation “Marvel of Indian Entrepreneurship,” by quoting a modern “Britisher” John Lennon, who said that vision and imagination were essential for entrepreneurship. Of course most of the world thinks of India as being entrepreneurial. Lahiri argued that Indians are good at taking risks, move quickly, and indeed do make good entrepreneurs but they are not (yet) great innovators. On the other hand, the British are great innovators yet could never master bringing their ideas to market successfully…Jaguar and Land Rover, are now owned by Tata for example. Along these lines, I was quoted in the local paper, the Telegraph, that Canada was good at manufacturing innovation but the innovations were not worth much. Business is tough. There was a strong push at the conference for nuclear energy as well as India’s prominent role (9%) in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Cadarache, France. India is very proud of its role in this leading-edge technology enterprise for many reasons, but an acronym much repeated was CSR….Corporate Social Responsibility. Again, I think India wishes to convey it is a progressive country that is concerning itself with the environment and the many other social issues the country faces.

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

I am sitting in Fraport (aka Frankfurt International Airport in Germany), bathed in warm sunlight alongside windows overlooking the busy activity of Terminal C. I am en route back home to Vancouver after an amazing trip to Kolkata, India.

I was in Kolkata for the Frontiers of Science Symposium, a two-day symposium with about 80 participants. It was a brilliant conference, actually, one that spanned science from physics to biology to engineering and computing science and information technology with some aesthetics and art history thrown in.

I want to comment on one theme that emerged – innovation in India. As my seatmate explained to from Kolkata to Delhi where I changed planes, Kolkata is actually just known as “Kal” these days by the locals because of the series of changes in the spelling and enunciation of the classical city’s name.

Professor R.A. Mashelkar was the second keynote speaker on Day 1 (March 2, 2011). As one of the advisors to the Prime Minster of India on science and technology, he had clearly thought pretty hard about how S&T fit into present-day India and especially its future. He made some brilliant observations.

He defined innovation as distinct from invention. Innovation, he said, was the successful exploitation of a new idea. Invention is then just the successful demonstration of a new idea. “Exploitation,” he said was not about pillaging and oppressing but about “making a difference.” He went on to say that “successful” meant three things: (1) speed (timing); (2) scale; and (3) sustainability. Thus, to be innovative, a new idea would have to be developed and applied to “make a difference” in way that was timely, affected “enough” people to be interesting or noteworthy, and had to be somehow self-sufficient or ongoingly relevant. A flash in the pan doesn’t qualify as innovative.

His thesis, though, revealed a cornerstone of cultural attitude and public policy in India. There are roughly 400 million people in India in the middle or upper socio-economic classes. That’s more people than there are total in the United States. More importantly, though, everyone notes, that means there are 600 million in India below the poverty line. And as most people know after visiting the country, living in poverty in India is serious poverty. The south side of Chicago is wealthy compared to what those 600 million people are dealing with.

The bottom line: science, technology, and innovation – as tools of public policy – must respond to and address this gross inequality. Mashelkar summarized this ambition with a noble (and catchy) moniker: Do More for Less for More. He abbreviated this as MLM (which I took as multi-level marketing the first time I saw it on his slides!)

What does More for Less for More mean? (Mashelkar has an article in the Harvard Business Review on this; see blog commentary on this.)  It means that our ambitions should be to accomplish More (results, impact, or performance) for Less (costs, time, effort, or resources) for More (and more and more people). Mashelkar challenged the symposium participants, and in fact all of India, to take More for Less for More as the goal for Indian innovation. Don’t come up with a new idea that makes life better for 5 people isn’t worth it. He asked people to come up with good ideas that make a difference for 100 million or even 500 million people. THAT would be true innovation, he asserted.

It was an inspiring and impassioned beginning to the conference, one that set the bar high and also identified a clear direction. India is a proud country and one that is increasingly dedicated to addressing its woes and improving life for all of its people.

Again, what an amazing country!

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Block Ed

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

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

Well, I’m struggling. I agreed to give a talk in India at the Frontiers of Science Symposium in Kolkata on March 2-3, 2011, about “science and industry collaboration.” You’d think that with our recent submission to the government on exactly this topic and my experience and expertise in this area, it’d be an easy talk to write.

But, I’m encountering writers’ block. I’m not writing, I’m using Microsoft PowerPoint, so maybe it’s sliders’ block or bulleted-list-persons’ block. What do you call someone who uses PPT to communicate?

Based on a conversation in the lunch room, I got my thesis clear so now I just hang the fruited examples on those branches and a beautiful tree I will have.

Stay focused!

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 Many media outlets have been discussing the potential impacts on Fermilab of a proposed 20 percent cut in the current fiscal year’s funding through the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Scientific American wrote about how the cuts would prematurely shutter the Tevatron. Geneva Patch.com wrote about potential layoffs and furloughs at Fermilab and Argonne national labs and how that might affect local business that support the laboratories and their employees.

The proposed cuts come as part of an appropriations bill for the FY2011 budget, which has yet to be approved even though five months of the budget year have passed.  Government has been working on a continuing resolution, which assumed budget levels stayed flat, but that continuing resolution expires March 4. The proposed House budget would not keep funding levels flat for key science agenciess as assumed by the continuing resolution but cut them by 20 percent, requiring labs such as Fermilab to come up with a year’s worth of savings in the last six months of the budget year. That equates to a 40 percent cut in six months, as Fermilab Director Pier Oddone has stated.

GenevaPatch.com published a letter that Illinois Senator Dick Durbin sent to fellow Congressmen and Congresswomen about proposed cuts to a key funding source of national laboratories.

… cuts critical research and robs 10,000 American workers of their jobs during a very weak economy.  This is not the path to economic growth.  We need to invest in crucial research that fuels American innovation.  Fiscal responsibility demands thoughtful allocation of our resources that will lead us to a stronger economic standing.  …  I look forward to working with you to ensure that our labs continue their world-class research.

Durbin stressed in a previous press release the need to balance needed cuts with continued support of industry and R&D that will promote innovation, and thus jobs. The President’s proposed FY2012 budget supports science and keeps funding for Fermilab relatively flat from FY2010 levels.

Finally, the President’s Budget also recommends targeted investments in key research and development programs for the next fiscal year to help promote innovation on our campuses and in our labs so that the growth industries of tomorrow are founded here today.

—  Tona Kunz

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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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