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Estonian businesses part of world’s largest neutron radiation source project

Project image of the European Spallation Source (ESS), to be completed in 2025.
Project image of the European Spallation Source (ESS), to be completed in 2025. Source: (ESS)

Estonian IT developer Proekspert is one of ten companies worldwide chosen to develop the integrated control system for the €2bn European linear accelerator project ESS. The European Spallation Source, to be completed in 2025, will be the strongest of its kind and have a variety of scientific and commercial applications.

Spallation means hitting a heavy atomic core with a high-energy particle to produce neutrons. To do this, a proton is accelerated and shot at a target, in the case of ESS made of the hard rare metal tungsten. The target then emits the neutrons. The neutrons are then guided to research stations, where they can be used in a great variety of ways.

This means that the installation, to be built in Lund in Sweden, will include a large particle accelerator, though somewhat different from other such installations, like CERN in Switzerland and its Large Hadron Collider (LHC), ESS will have much broader applications — commercial ones among them.

Particle accelerator for scientific as well as commercial development

The ESS project will not only benefit science, but also have practical commercial applications useful for manufacturing, plastics, energy, IT and telecommunications, and many more. Even biotechnology and pharmaceutical development will profit from the project.

ESS will be the most powerful neutron source ever built. It will be between 30 and 100 times as strong as the currently most powerful accelerators. The first tests shooting protons at the tungsten target are planned for 2019, the whole project to be completed by 2025.

Technologically complex and very challenging, the installation will produce enormous amounts of data, which will be processed in a data management center in Copenhagen in Denmark. The multinational project among other benefits offers the Estonian scientific scene access to top of the line equipment, with both the Tallinn University of Technology as well as the University of Tartu already waiting to make use of it.

Software systems developer Proekspert wins tender

Proekspert was chosen as one of ten companies worldwide in an international tender process. They signed the contract last week. Out of over a hundred businesses going for ESS’ various contracts, Estonian companies AS Helmes and OÜ Elvior also became partners in the development of software for the project.

The company’s CEO, Marko Sverdlik, said that being awarded the contract would allow the company to take part in developing key future technologies. “The framework agreement and the fact that Proekspert has the opportunity to work on a project of this magnitude can be seen as a testament to the quality of work Estonian IT companies are doing. The project also offers us a superb challenge in a key field for Proekspert — technologies that will be shaping our future not just 20, but 50 years down the road.”

The ESS’ integrated control system that Proekspert will soon be working on will integrate and synchronize the huge array of software and hardware for the neutron source. Consisting of about 1.5 million electronic control points, the system makes it possible to control and measure the flow of particles from the accelerator, target operating conditions, and neutron generation. The control system also unifies control of all neutron measurement instruments.

Estonian scientists to gain access to cutting-edge research and technology

Ott Rebane of the University of Tartu’s Institute of Physics is Estonia’s ESS liaison. According to Rebane, participating in the project will enrich Estonian science. “It will give Estonian researchers the opportunity to work at the cutting edge of world science,” he said. “Estonian researchers will have access to state of the art science, and neutron radiation data will open a window for us to make new discoveries in biomedicine, materials science, chemistry, pharmaceutical industry and many other fields.”

For example, neutron radiation could be used to explore various future energy sources, Rebane said. The neutron radiation source could be used by the pharmaceutical industry for studying the biodistribution of drugs, for example. Other applications in life science would include photosynthesis, and the flow of water in plant tissues.

University of Tartu Vice-Rector for Research, Marco Kirm, called international research centres such as ESS “crucibles of future technologies”. Kirm said he was particularly pleased that in addition to what Estonian researchers were contributing, local tech forms had been successful in the face of stiff competition. “Their high competence and prior experience give them strong qualifications to develop new and innovative solutions. This is the best way for Estonia to take part in the international knowledge transfer, involving our scientific potential as well as our industry,” Kirm said.

Editor: Editor: Dario Cavegn

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