Could particle accelerators help the environment? Students to propose innovative ideas

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 C. Darve, N. Delerue    29-09-2023     Leggi in PDF
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Could particle accelerators help the environment? This was the subject of this summer's challenge-based innovation event, held by I.FAST, an EU-funded project aimed at fostering innovation using particle accelerators.

In July, four teams of six students met at the European Scientific Institute (ESI) in Archamps (France) near Geneva to work on an innovative idea using accelerator technology. For two consecutive years, the topic of the challenge has been "Accelerators for the environment". Over ten days, high-level seminars were provided on particle accelerator technology, environmental issues and innovation, while the teams were devising on potential new applications of accelerator technology. On the last day, they presented their work at CERN in front of an international jury.

This year, the winning team suggested to use an electrostatic accelerator to separate shreds of cloth from fast fashion making them easier to recycle. The other teams suggested to sterilise pollens from invasive species, to use electron irradiation to separate and recycle the layers of discarded solar panels and to use a submarine for ion implantation to treat corrosion on wind turbines.

Last year’s team had other ideas: the winning team suggested to fit an accelerator on a boat to treat algal bloom, another team suggested to install an accelerator on a truck to clean polluted soils, a third team proposed to use an accelerator to strengthen the polymers in a wind turbine and the fourth team suggested to install a compact light source on an oceanic research ship to study microplastics in oceanic gyres.

The feedback from the jury has been highly positive. "It's a fantastic initiative that showcases how accelerators can play a vital role in protecting the environment. Electron accelerators offer the possibility to treat wastewater and plastic without using chemicals, while ion beams are indispensable for analysing environmental samples, determining their chemical species, and predicting their future behaviour”, said Melissa Denecke, Director of the IAEA's Division of Physical and Chemical Sciences and member of the jury.

To achieve such success, participants diversity is key. The selection committee is made of members of CERN, CNRS, Oxford University, IAEA and ESI. They ensure gender diversity (12 male and 12 female participants in 2023) but also that participants have different academic background (physics, engineering, environmental science, economics, law, communication, ...) and study in many different countries: in 2023 the 24 participants studied from 12 different European countries (plus 7 participants enrolled in Erasmus Mundus programs).

The program will run again in 2024 with a new topic: "Accelerators for health". Applications will open in December 2023 at this link. All applications are welcome!

Learn more about

Christine Darve – Engineering scientist at the European Spallation Source, Sweden, she obtained her PhD from Northwestern University and worked at CERN and Fermilab. She is Chair of the Forum on International Physics (FIP) of the American Physical Society (APS), co-founder of the Nordic Particle Accelerator Program (NPAP) and the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications (ASP). She received an APS Fellowship in 2016.

Nicolas Delerue – Is a researcher working at Irène Joliot Curie Laboratory (IJCLab) in Orsay, France. He obtained his PhD in 2002. He has worked at KEK in Japan and at the University of Oxford in the UK before joining CNRS in France. His research interests include beam instrumentation for particle accelerators, laser-plasma acceleration, applications of accelerators and outreach.