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Kansas State University research team wins R&D 100 Award for second year in a row

Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015 


MANHATTAN — 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.

This is the fourth time McGregor has won the award and he credits the team in his Semiconductor Materials and Radiological Technologies, or SMART, Laboratory and other Kansas State University collaborators for their roles in developing the instrument: Ken Shultis, professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering; Tim Sobering, director of the Electronics Design Lab; Brian Cooper and Ryan Fronk, doctoral students in nuclear engineering from Manhattan; and Steven Bellinger, research associate in mechanical and nuclear engineering. Colleagues at the University of Missouri's Kansas City and Columbia campuses, led by Anthony Caruso, assembled and wrote the software that runs the device.

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.

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, McGregor said. The initial idea came in 2005 when Shultis 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 Kansas State University SMART Laboratory and now available commercially through Radiation Detection Technologies Inc., of which Bellinger is president.

Through the years, the Kansas State University and University of Missouri, Kansas City research teams have refined the basic design behind the Antero and Shavano detector capabilities.

"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," Sobering said.

In addition to improving the devices, the group aims to ensure its innovations are practical rather than making one working prototype and then celebrating success.

"We design radiation detectors for mass reproducibility in the future," McGregor said.

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," Fronk said. "From start to finish, the students know how to work on these things. We make, design, test and package the detectors."

Cooper 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. Everyone in industry understands that I have had some part on an R&D award," he said. 


Douglas McGregor



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Written by

Sarah Caldwell Hancock

At a glance

R&D magazine has honored a Kansas State University research team with an R&D 100 Award.