European Spallation Source granted patent
for neutron detection technology
6 March 2013
The European Spallation Source (ESS) in Lund, Sweden, has been
granted its first patent in collaboration with researchers at
Linköping University for new technology that will improve the
efficiency of its neutron detectors.
The ESS is currently Europe’s largest science project. It
is in effect a microscope that uses neutrons instead of light to
study the structure and function of materials, ranging from polymers
and pharmaceuticals to membranes and molecules.
It overcame a significant technological challenge it was
facing for its construction and operational phase by inventing a new
technology that will be the basis for neutron detectors used in many
of its 22 instruments. With the new boron-10-based detectors, ESS
will secure efficient and high-class neutron detection in its
instruments, and thus the best experimental opportunities for the
The architectural design for the ESS, announced
Photo source: Henning Larsen Architects
Currently, helium-3 is used by scientists for materials research,
as a crucial component in neutron instrument detectors. The
detectors measure how the neutrons react to a sample being studied.
Therefore, the result of an experiment is dependent on efficient
detectors. The growing scarcity of helium-3 has affected all current
materials research conducted at neutron science facilities
worldwide, and has necessitated the development of new technologies
for neutron detection.
In order to guarantee efficient neutron detectors at the future
ESS facility, and avoid dependence on helium-3, whose production is
extremely limited, and consequently very expensive, the Neutron
Detector Group at ESS and scientists at the Thin Film Physics
Division at Linköping University launched an extensive R&D work
aimed at enabling the use of enriched thin films of boron-10 carbide
for ESS’ detector systems, instead of using helium-3.
The patent was recently granted by the Swedish Patent and
Registration Office, and is the first registered by ESS. The
technology will be further developed through prototyping. ESS also
has the ambition to set-up a spin-off company with the goal of
exploiting additional market demands, including those of neutron
scattering facilities, the logistics sector, and other sectors.
“We are very proud about this first patent for the European
Spallation Source, which would not have been possible without the
thin-films expertise at Linköping University”, says Colin Carlile,
CEO of ESS.
“It allows us not only to secure the detector supplies needed for
ESS, but to spin out the production in the framework of our new
innovation activities, satisfy further market demands, and
contribute to growth and jobs.”
Professor Jens Birch of Linköping University emphasizes how
quickly and efficiently the problem could be solved: “So far our
group is the only one worldwide that can produce these coatings in a
reliable manner”, he says.
“Detector development is crucial for the future scientific
programme of ESS. With our new detector technology, we have solved a
large technological challenge, and will also secure ESS’s
independence of current scarce helium-3 supplies”, says ESS detector
scientist Carina Höglund.
The detector R&D has been performed as a collaboration between
Dr. Carina Höglund from ESS, Prof. Jens Birch and Prof. Lars Hultman
from the Thin Film Physics Division at Linköping University. Their
patent covers the invention of “a method for producing a neutron
detector component comprising a Boron Carbide layer for use in
neutron detecting device”.
The European Spallation Source is the next generation facility for
materials research and life sciences.
ESS will be a multidisciplinary
research laboratory based on the world’s most powerful neutron
source. ESS can be likened to a large microscope, where neutrons are
used instead of light to study materials — ranging from polymers and
pharmaceuticals to membranes and molecules — to gain knowledge about
their structure and function.
ESS will be around 30 times better
than existing facilities, opening up new possibilities for
researchers in for example health, environment, climate, energy,
transport sciences and cultural heritage.
ESS is an
intergovernmental research infrastructure project, and it will be
built in Lund in southern Scandinavia. Currently 17 European
countries are Partners in the ESS project, and will take part in the
construction, financing and operation of the ESS. The Partner
Countries are: Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France,
Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the
Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom.
European Spallation Source ESS AB is a state-owned limited liability
company, today owned by the host countries Sweden and Denmark. ESS
AB is currently working on finalizing the ESS technical design,
planning the future research at ESS, preparing for construction, and
planning the future international ESS organisation.
This is done in
collaboration with around 60 Partner Laboratories, research
institutes, and universities around the world. During 2013, the
ongoing Pre-Construction Phase goes over into Construction, and the
ground-break is planned for 2014.
The ﬁrst neutrons will be produced
in 2019 and the facility will be fully operational around 2025. ESS
is expected to support a user community of at least 5000 European
researchers and will have great strategic importance for the
development of the European Research Area. Nearby there will be
complementary laboratories, such as the synchrotron MAX IV in Lund
and XFEL and PETRAIII in Hamburg.