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Taking Neutrons to New Heights

By January 9, 2020April 21st, 2020No Comments

2019: A Year in Review

2019 was a big year for Phoenix. Some years are years of exciting new beginnings; some are years of satisfying conclusions. For us, 2019 was largely a year of monumental middle chapters—small steps and great leaps alike on the journeys we’re on to better our world through innovations in nuclear technology.

Small Steps and Great Leaps: 2019 in the News

PNIC exterior

PNIC just before our grand opening ceremony in October

The period from Q4 of 2018 to Q1 of 2019 saw us break ground on PNIC and complete an audit of our quality management system, ringing in the new year with a new facility springing up from the ground in Fitchburg and an ISO 9001:2015 and AS9100 Rev D certified quality management system (QMS). This made us the first industrial radiography vendor to have a QMS that meets both of these rigorous sets of standards.

In April 2019, we secured $4 million in funding from the US Army to demonstrate neutron-based NDT equipment. Later that year, we successfully performed a demonstration of PNIC’s thermal and fast neutron radiographic capabilities. This was another leg of our ongoing journey with the US Army, which has been ongoing since 2007. In addition to funding the demonstration of our neutron imaging capabilities, our latest contract will also help us take the first steps toward combining the data from neutron radiographs and X-ray imaging to create hybrid images with unprecedented detail.

The summer of 2019 was an especially noteworthy one, both for us and for our sister company SHINE Medical Technologies. In June, we ran a 132-hour test of a critical component of SHINE’s medical isotope production system, our high-flux neutron generators. The weekly SHINE production cycle will require our fusion neutron generators to operate continuously for 5.5 days with better than 95% uptime in order to maximize production of molybdenum-99, the radioactive isotope that makes many lifesaving medical procedures possible. In this test, we produced a neutron yield 10% higher than required with an uptime higher than 99%.

That wasn’t the only milestone we and SHINE set last year. Later in October, we performed another test of SHINE’s isotope production system, and this time, we set a new record for the highest neutron yield in a steady-state fusion neutron source. With an output of over 46 trillion neutrons per second, we blew past the previous record for a sustained fusion neutron yield, set in the 1980s, by nearly 25%.

Fall was a hectic time of year, as it always was, with work on the construction of PNIC nearing completion. Twelve months after breaking ground on our new location, we conducted an official grand opening event and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the facility, celebrating all the hard work we’ve done to build the world’s first industrial radiography vendor to provide neutron radiography without a nuclear reactor.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony photo

Ribbon cutting with the attending staff of Phoenix

Cutting the ribbon at PNIC was far from the end for our work. In the last months of 2019, we put our noses to the grindstone and began working to fulfill early orders for key aerospace manufacturers, demonstrating our facility’s ability to produce Category I neutron radiographs, the highest possible image quality defined by ASTM International. We installed the X-ray system at PNIC that gives us the ability to perform both X-ray and N-ray imaging under the same roof and pushed forward in our fast neutron CT work to create 3D neutron images. And as we cut the ribbon at PNIC, we also broke ground on our new headquarters on the same site, taking another monumental step on our relocation to the city of Fitchburg.

Check out the City of Fitchburg’s five-minute highlight review of the grand opening event!

GMOD radiation effects system installation

GMOD radiation effects system installation

It wasn’t just neutron imaging and nuclear medicine keeping our engineers busy last year, though. We also completed testing of our mobile IED detection system NEMESIS, and two of our under-development nuclear fuel scanner systems passed their factory acceptance tests. The neutron-based radiation survivability testing system we developed for the German Ministry of Defense was installed and completed its Site Acceptance Test. We also taught a course on neutron imaging at 2019’s ASNT Annual Conference to spread the word about neutron imaging in the NDT community.

NEMESIS in action in a test run at the site of our new facility

NEMESIS in action in a test run at the site of our new facility

2019 by the Numbers

In the past year, we…

  • Doubled our revenue from 2017
  • Added 22 new staff members and 13 new interns
  • Secured $9.5 million in private equity funding
  • Generated 46 trillion neutrons per second with a sustained fusion reaction
  • Broke ground on a 50,000 square foot headquarters in Fitchburg

Where Did We Go?

While our engineers were hard at work making all of this year’s sizable accomplishments possible (and we simply can’t understate how sizable these accomplishments are or how proud we are of our engineers for everything they’ve done here at Phoenix last year), our applications specialists were out there spreading the good word about Phoenix’s neutron generators. Some of the conferences we attended in 2019 included:

ICYMI: Who’s Talking About Us?

Phoenix got a lot of media buzz in 2019, between our record-breaking tests and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. In addition to a few of our own articles we published in industry publications, here are a few of the pieces that covered our exciting innovations:

Our very own Dr. Evan Sengbusch also stepped up to give interviews about Phoenix on two technology podcasts in 2019:

And last but not least, by far one of the most fun and exciting social media events we participated in last year was the AMA (Ask Me Anything) session we hosted on Reddit, in which our executive team took an afternoon to answer questions from Reddit users about nuclear fusion, green technology, football (Go Badgers!), ethics, Culvers, and just about everything else under the sun. Will we host another in 2020? Only time will tell…

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