FAPESP and the Brazilian Innovation Agency (FINEP) announced the result of a public competition related to the development of components for Sirius, Brazil’s new synchrotron light source that is scheduled to start operating in 2018. Eight companies were selected to overcome 13 scientific and technological challenges related to the construction of the ring, which is nearly six times larger than the current one, in operation since 1997. With a circumference of 518.4 meters, the source will be installed in a building occupying 68,000 square meters and whose structure resembles a soccer stadium in size and shape. If they can meet the challenges, the companies will qualify as suppliers of the National Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS), responsible for building and operating the source. “The intent of the call for suppliers is not just to help develop Sirius, but also to allow innovative companies in the state of São Paulo and their research teams to expand their range of technology products, creating a supply chain in a position to compete on the global market,” said Douglas Zampieri, a professor at the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and coordinator of the FAPESP Area Panels Committee for Research for Innovation.
Synchrotron light sources are devices designed to produce a type of high-brilliance, broad-spectrum radiation, including the infrared, ultraviolet and X-ray ranges. Able to penetrate matter and reveal features of its molecular and atomic structure, it is used to understand the microscopic nature of materials. The radiation is generated by electrons produced by an accelerator, which circulate in a large ring at near the speed of light and, when they pass through magnets, deflect due to the magnetic field. Photons are emitted, resulting in synchrotron light. The electromagnetic waves are used by researchers at work stations arranged around the ring for studies on the structure of materials such as polymers, rocks, and metals, in addition to proteins, molecules used in drugs and cosmetics, or three-dimensional fossil or cell images. The Sirius source will have 40 of these stations.
With an estimated cost of R$1.5 billion, it will be one of the first 4th-generation sources in the world. At some frequencies, the brilliance of the emitted light will be more than 1 billion times greater than that generated by the current source. In the ring operating today, the light beam’s energy allows analysis of only the surface layer of hard, dense materials, since the X-rays produced penetrate these materials to a depth of a few micrometers. “Sirius’ high energy will allow these same materials to be analyzed at depths of several centimeters,” says physicist Antônio José Roque da Silva, a professor at the University of São Paulo (USP) and LNLS director.
Synchrotron light sources contain three accelerating structures: a linear accelerator, an injector accelerator and a storage ring (see table). Component specifications are very precise not only because of the intensity of the energy, but also because fluctuations of even less than a micrometer (a millionth of one meter) can disrupt the placement of electron and photon beams. A significant part of this research and development effort is being performed by the team of 240 researchers and technicians from LNLS, similar to what happened in the 1990s during the construction of the current source. “About 70% of the ring’s components will be developed in Brazil,” says Silva.
To meet the construction schedule, the participation of domestic companies has become important. Some have been involved for a longer period, such as Termomecânica in São Bernardo do Campo, which developed the process for manufacturing the vacuum chambers, made of a copper-silver alloy, and the hollow copper strands for the electromagnets which allow cooling-water circulation. Another example is Weg, in the state of Santa Catarina, which should provide 1,350 electromagnets for the accelerators.
The beam path
For companies selected via the call for suppliers published by FAPESP and FINEP, their interest is not limited to the possibility of providing the components for the source. Equatorial Systems, in São José dos Campos, is responsible for three approved projects. For one of them the company will provide fluorescent electron-beam displays, devices that allow identification of the size and position of the beams in the accelerators. The monitors consist of a screen that can be placed in the path of the electrons and will be useful for adjusting the beam’s trajectory. A second project provides for the supply of photon blockers, safety devices for the beamlines that intercept the beam emitted by the particle accelerator, interposing a chilled metal block in its way. “Every line of light will have at least one of these shutters. We want to become international suppliers of this kind of equipment,” says César Ghizoni, president of Equatorial.
The company’s main interest is in the third project, for the production of X-ray detectors using a technology—Medipix—developed through an international collaboration between 20 laboratories, coordinated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). LNLS became part of the consortium in 2013. “In the experiments, the X-rays generated by the accelerator interact with the material studied, and spread out. These detectors show where the radiation came from, its direction and intensity, all in real time,” says Ghizoni. “This technology has great potential in the medical sciences since it allows production of X-ray images in real time. We are interested in developing applications,” he says. The company has developed devices for the Soar telescope in Chile, and the Pierre Auger cosmic ray detector, in Argentina, projects involving researchers from São Paulo that were supported by FAPESP. Established in 1996, Equatorial has a research and development team with 12 technicians and engineers and has been controlled by Airbus Defense & Space since 2006.
Atmos systems, in São Paulo, took over the development of an electronic device that measures electron beam position. The beam must be positioned with great precision in the center of the ring using magnetic fields. “The monitor measures the beam position in two dimensions by digitizing, filtering and processing the signals from probes placed along the ring,” says Fábio Fukuda, who is responsible for the project. “The device will measure the position of the beam with submicron precision.” One of Atmos’ goals is to be able to provide similar systems for synchrotron light sources in other countries. “We might be able to use the signal treatment and processing technology in other products produced by our company, such as radars,” he says.
Engecer, a technology-based company in São Carlos (SP) that has been developing products for the technical ceramic sector for over 20 years, proposed to develop and produce parts for the electron-beam position monitors. “These are ceramics with very specific electrical properties,” says Tatiani Falvo, a researcher at Engecer. In the current synchrotron light source, they were produced with alumina. In the Sirius source, they must be manufactured with different materials, boron nitride and aluminum nitride. The pressing process requires temperatures between 1,600ºC and 2,000ºC and is not done in Brazil. “You need to purchase a hot press in order to manufacture ceramics. The company is interested in the knowledge related to this new process in order to possibly incorporate it into its production line,” says Falvo. Engecer committed to delivering a few prototypes made with the two materials so that LNLS could decide which works best. FCA Brasil, in Campinas, will provide prototypes of ultra-high vacuum chambers and other components for the Sirius source that will be used at various points along the ring and in the experiment stations.
The idea of attracting innovative companies to help build the source was fostered by FAPESP, which suggested the use of programs such as the Program to Support Research in Small Businesses (PIPE). Two years ago, a workshop was held at LNLS, in Campinas, attended by over 50 companies. They were introduced to a set of technical challenges involved in building the source and available funding opportunities. But the talks encountered an obstacle. Several companies claimed that a substantial portion of their costs would correspond to the time worked by their researchers. But salaries are not among the items that can be financed by PIPE projects, only scholarships. The solution was to use an existing agreement between FAPESP and FINEP, which provides funding for the Program to Support Research in Small Business (PAPPE). “After a few months of negotiation with FINEP, we published the call for suppliers,” says Douglas Zampieri. “The quality of the projects for building Sirius was very good.” Of the 13 companies that submitted proposals, eight were selected.
Corporate involvement in the construction of large scientific facilities is common practice in Europe and the United States. “It would be great if, after Sirius, we could mobilize companies to tackle challenges from other scientific projects, creating a market like the one in Europe and the United States,” says Silva. Omnisys, a company headquartered in São Bernardo do Campo (SP) that develops electronic components for weapons, satellites and radar, is responsible for four of the projects approved. Founded in 1997 by three electronics engineers, in 2006 the company came under the control of the French multinational Thales, in the defense, aerospace and transportation sector. Its 70 technicians and engineers in Brazil will dedicate themselves to challenges such as manufacturing, assembling and testing three types of circuit boards used by the electron-beam position measurement system. The project includes the supply of 12 prototypes of each type of card. Another goal is to develop electronic components for the photon-position detectors in the experiment stations. The company also decided to develop high-power current sources, used to power the magnets.
Omnisys also seeks to create digital-regulation modules for the source. This is the only challenge that is being addressed by two different companies. Macnica DHW, a distributor of electronic components, is also working on this task. A synchrotron light source needs stable magnetic fields, which depend on highly reliable current sources. The challenge is to replace the analog system used by the current source with a digital one. Omnisys and Macnica DHW will use different components and pledged to deliver a few dozen prototypes for testing. The LNLS team also developed the necessary technology, but believes that the companies can supply a better product. “Over 1300 regulators will need to work in harmony. This is so critical to the performance of the source that we have selected two companies for the challenge,” says Regis Neuenschwander, assistant manager, LNLS Engineering Division.
Some of the challenges involve optics technologies. Luxtec Sistemas Ópticos, of Campinas, will develop prototypes of components for X-ray reflection. “This is not a conventional lens, but rather an elliptical glass tube able to guide X-rays,” explains Cícero Omegna de Souza Filho, who is responsible for the project. Luxtec will assemble a set of three machines to produce this type of tube. Its experience with fiber optics allowed it to participate in the challenge. “The lenses are the size of a pen, with a diameter of 1 cm and a length of 25 cm, and resemble optical fibers before being drawn,” he explains.
Opto Eletrônica, in São Carlos, intends to develop the manufacturing and characterization process for extremely high quality mirrors, with a roughness on the order of a few nanometers, for use in synchrotron light focusing systems. “Few countries in the world have the technology for the polishing process needed to manufacture this type of mirror,” says Rafael Alves de Souza Ribeiro, the physicist in charge of the project. “Brazil’s command of this technique and its strategic positioning as a supplier of optical components for use in synchrotron light systems would generate demand in domestic and foreign markets. If we can master the technique, we will open huge doors in fundamental and applied research, such as the development of equipment for X-rays, optical systems for satellite cameras and applications in astronomy. “The company, which provides lasers for medical uses, equipment for defense systems and cameras for satellites, promises to deliver eight flat, rectangular mirror prototypes, about 40 x 40 cm, to LNLS.
FAPESP and FINEP plan to use the same call for suppliers format to involve companies in other technological challenges. A new call for the development of technologies for the Sirius source and the selection of proposals from technology companies in the aerospace and defense sectors should be published soon. In the case of Sirius, the proposed challenges are related to technologies and processes on which the initial operation of the light source does not depend directly. One of them is to create software for robots that determines the position on the ground where equipment should be placed. Another is to create the electronics for a monitoring train, equipped with sensors and cameras, that will circle the ring to detect any operational problems. “We can start without this monitoring system fully operating, but eventually we will have to install it,” says Regis Neuenschwander, of LNLS. He believes that the Brazilian companies that manufacture drones may be interested in developing software for the monitoring train.Republish