K-State research team wins R&D 100 Award for second year in a row

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Kansas State University's Semiconductor Materials and Radiological Technologies, or SMART, Laboratory provides an excellent educational experience. (Photo courtesy of Douglas McGregor)

For the second year in a row, a Kansas State University research team has won a prestigious R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine for developing one of the year's 100 top technologies.

The university's group, led by Douglas McGregor, university distinguished professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, along with six other organizations from academia, industry and government, developed a hand-held neutron detector that can locate and identify sources of neutron radiation as well as provide radiation dose information. Currently, there are two commercial versions of the hand-held invention, the Antero and the Shavano.

R&D 100 Awards, sometimes called the "Oscars of invention," are given to the top 100 most innovative technologies and services each year. McGregor and colleagues were cited in the analytical test category. Other categories for the award are IT/electrical, mechanical devices/materials, process/prototyping and software/services.

The invention has garnered one U.S. patent, with a second patent pending. Award co-recipient Paul Scott, chief technology officer at U2D Inc., has commercialized the neutron-detecting device. The U.S. government is the research group's major sponsor, including the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The K-State team also collaborated with colleagues at the University of Missouri's Kansas City and Columbia campuses.

Kansas State University R&D 100 awardees, front row (from left): Ryan Fronk '11, Douglas McGregor and Steven Bellinger '06, '11; back row (from left): Tim Sobering '82, '84, Ken Shultis and Brian Cooper '08. (Photo courtesy of Douglas McGregor)
Many groups are in need of devices that detect sources of dangerous radiation, such as all branches of the military, radiation safety workers and NASA astronauts.

"People can use the detectors we build in many radiation measurement applications," McGregor said.

The detector is an advancement because it's smaller, lighter and much less expensive than previous units. The initial idea came in 2005 when Ken Shultis, K-State professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, produced calculations demonstrating that stacking detectors sequentially inserted in a cylinder of moderating material could identify unique signatures and solve the difficult problem of identifying the type of neutron source. 

The new technology was enabled by the development of compact microstructured semiconductor neutron detectors, invented and developed in the K-State Semiconductor Materials and Radiological Technologies, or SMART, Laboratory, and is now available commercially through Radiation Detection Technologies Inc., of which Steven Bellinger ’06, ’11, K-State research associate in mechanical and nuclear engineering, is president.

Through the years, the research teams have refined the basic design behind the Antero and Shavano detector capabilities. 

Kansas State University's SMART Laboratory is a hub for innovation and research. (Photo courtesy of Douglas McGregor)
"Where it used to be an entire rack of equipment, we have now squeezed all of the electronics needed to support the microstructured semiconductor neutron detectors sensor technology into one space directly underneath them," said Tim Sobering ’82, ’84, director of the K-State Electronics Design Lab.

For the graduate students in the group, the experience of working in the SMART Laboratory is an important educational experience.

"We participate in all aspects of fabrication, design, electronics, how the sensors operate," said Ryan Fronk ’11, K-State doctoral student in nuclear engineering. "From start to finish, the students know how to work on these things. We make, design, test and package the detectors."

Brian Cooper ’08, another doctoral student in nuclear engineering, said the award is meaningful to potential employers. 

"As a graduate student, it's a very nice accolade because there's the experience of working on a project and learning,” he said. “Everyone in industry understands that I have had some part on an R&D award.”

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