K-State Students Using New Clean Room To Make Radiation Detectors

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- In an underground lab at Kansas State University, engineering students are creating new technologies that are being eyed by numerous corporations and government agencies.

Officials cut the ribbon Monday on a $3 million clean room facility in Ward Hall. U.S. Representative. Tim Huelskamp as well as other government representatives and members of the university community attended the dedication.

The new clean room is located in the Semiconductor Materials and Radiological Technologies, or S.M.A.R.T., Laboratory, which is dedicated to the research and development of new and innovative radiation detector technologies. The S.M.A.R.T. laboratory spans more than 6,000 square feet of lab space divided into specialized research labs.

The new class-100 clean room spans 1,000 square feet and is dedicated to the fabrication of innovative radiation detectors and the development of mass production processes needed to provide these detectors at affordable prices.

The process used to make devices in the labs is similar to the way computer chips are made- one piece of dust can ruin them. The class-100 clean room drastically cuts down on pollutants so that researchers can design and build the detectors from the ground up.

"With this new clean room and with the other facilities on campus, we are now the most fully integrated radiation detector development laboratory at any university in the country. We are building cutting edge detectors for neutron detection and also for gamma ray spectrometry. These detectors can be used for a variety of different things including Homeland Security purposes. They can be used for basic neutron scattering facilities... The devices can be sued for medical imaging or general survey work," explained Douglas McGregor, director of the S.M.A.R.T. laboratory and professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering.

The clean room was funded by a $2.7 million grant from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and several hundred thousand dollars were put in by the university to help fund the infrastructure

"The lab was funded from the Department of Defense, Defense Threat Reduction Agency because they like the detectors we’ve been making and they want us to be able to make more and also they wanted us to have the same sort of equipment industry has so that we can eventually commercialize this and hand it off to a company," said Philip Ugorowski, Research Assistant Professor for the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering.

The S.M.A.R.T. laboratory has been supported by more than $16 million in numerous government and corporate sponsors, including the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, National Science Foundation, the U.S. Dept. of Energy Nuclear Engineering Education Research Program and the U.S. Dept. of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration.

"At this time, the S.M.A.R.T. laboratory researchers have 12 patents and we have four more patents pending right now. Over the years, we’ve published more than 150 scientific papers," Professor McGregor told WIBW.