Siemens ONIAC on display at London Science Museum

Tuesday 30 April 2013

A photographer from the Science Museum came to take photos

A photographer from the Science Museum came to take photos inside the ONIAC vessel with Robert Selway, Siemens mechanical engineering contractor
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The Siemens ONIAC prototype which was developed at ISIS in collaboration with ISIS engineers is featuring in the Antenna contemporary science exhibition at the London Science Museum for the next three months.

ONIAC, short for ONIon ACcelerator, is a prototype particle accelerator which creates radioisotopes that could help scientists offer better cancer diagnosis. The ONIAC is constructed from a set of nested metal shells resembling an onion. It’s smaller, lighter and more efficient than previous designs and could provide a local source of hard-to-obtain isotopes for cancer diagnosis.

Dr Oliver Heid, chief innovator at Siemens states that using this new particle accelerator is better than producing isotopes in nuclear reactors or particle accelerators because “it is smaller, cheaper and safer. It is also fairly simple to build, and it will be reliable and more energy-efficient than current production methods.”

Robert Selway, Siemens and Dan Faircloth, ISIS

Robert Selway, Siemens mechanical engineering contractor and Dan Faircloth, ISIS accelerator group in front of the resonant transformer which powers the ONIAC shells
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In terms of applications, “it’s perfect for hospitals that don’t have room for traditional accelerators” – Heather Williams, Senior Medical Physicist for Nuclear Medicine, Manchester. “It will help people who need very specialist scans and make these scans available to more patients with a wide range of illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, epilepsy and dementia. Doctors will be able to use the information to understand and treat the patient’s illness more effectively.”

In order to accelerate the beam that produces the isotopes, very high voltages are required at the centre of the ONIAC. Dan Faircloth, STFC research engineer working on the ONIAC said, “to prove that it was possible to generate high voltages with nested shells, a test was made with IKEA bowls. The Swedish company conveniently sells sets of 4 nested salad bowls. These were assembled into a test circuit that became affectionately known as the IKEAC, which is now in the Science Museum.”

IKEAC prototype waiting to be shipped

IKEAC prototype, made of IKEA salad bowls, waiting to be shipped to the Science Museum in London
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In the future, Dr Heid wants to be able to make a lot of these accelerators easily using car industry technology to make the shells out of a plastic used in car bumpers. “Being smart with manufacturing technology means more people will have access to local isotope production and healthcare will benefit.”

When asked about alternative uses for the accelerator, Dr Heid replied, “it could be used for cleaning up pollutants such as hard-to-treat waste from factories. It could disinfect drinking water as an alternative to using chlorine. Or it might be used to kill dangerous organisms in waste water during sewage treatment.”

Emily Mobley

For more information, visit the Science Museum website

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