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Taking Neutrons to New Places

By January 20, 2021January 27th, 2021No Comments

2020: A Year in Review

2020 has been a difficult, at times frustrating and disappointing year in many ways. Amid global health crises and economic struggles, though, we have made many milestones this year as we take our neutron generator technology further for the betterment of humanity.

A Year of Transition: 2020 in the News

In January of 2020, Phoenix was awarded a US Army IDIQ contract to demonstrate neutron radiography techniques for munitions inspection. The $10 million ceiling IDIQ (indefinite quantity, indefinite delivery) contract with the US Army will allow Army radiographers to more easily identify defects and interpret part or assembly quality in the quality assurance of ammunition, armaments, or components of weapons and defense systems. Additionally, Phoenix is developing training programs which will introduce Army personnel to the fundamentals and practical applications of neutron radiography and working with Army subject matter experts and American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) committees to develop new and rigorous standards for computed neutron radiography. This Army contract will continue to fund Phoenix’s innovative neutron radiography technology development and ensure continued skilled job growth.

There are many exciting developments afoot in the world of fusion energy and a lot of amazing new opportunities cropping up all over the world, and over the course of 2020 Phoenix has been working to seize these opportunities. We’re making great headway with clients in the fusion industry both within the US and abroad. In addition, in this past year we were invited by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to submit a proposal under its Galvanizing Advances in Market-Aligned Fusion for an Overabundance of Watts (GAMOW) program. Details of our proposal and Phoenix’s roadmap to further enabling fusion energy under this program are forthcoming in this quarter.

Celebrating a milestone for the GNF scannerWhen COVID-19 hit and Dane County went under a lockdown order in late March, Phoenix was permitted to continue operating, allowing us to carry out our essential work at PNIC providing neutron imaging to our clients in the aerospace industry. We have taken all precautions to mitigate the risk of COVID transmission among our employees and continue to socially distance and encourage working from home to those who can. In Q1 2020, PNIC opened to general clients after fulfilling initial contracts with our clients who had arranged for beamtime in advance of the facility’s opening. In Q2, our nuclear fuel scanners passed several important milestones in their operation and installation, with one passing its final qualification and another successfully completing its factory acceptance testing. We also executed a revised supply agreement with our sister company SHINE Medical Technologies, extending our exclusivity to their planned second site. Phoenix is currently building the first four production units for SHINE’s Janesville facility “Building One.” In the last quarter of 2020, we onboarded our first long-term energetics customer at PNIC and executed a five-year supply agreement.

In the summer of 2020 as part of our participation in Black Philanthropy Month, Phoenix entered into a donation-matching partnership with Maydm, which provides to girls and youth of color in grades 6-12 resources and training to develop computational problem solving, creative and critical thinking skills, access to mentors and industry professionals, and internship opportunities to encourage them and prepare them to enter STEM careers. We’re happy to help Maydm and other sponsored organizations enrich the fields of science and engineering with new and diverse perspectives.

In the latter half of 2020, we developed our proposal for GAMOW, received a contract with the US Navy Office of Naval Research to execute a follow-on to the NEMESIS program to investigate a new methodology for detecting and characterizing unexploded munitions, and received a formal award notification from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate to begin negotiations for a contract to design and build a prototype neutron-based cargo scanning system dubbed IN-STINCT (Interrogation with Neutrons – Screening for Threats and Interdicting Narcotics in Cargo at High Throughput). Closing out the year, we passed an audit by Lockheed Martin which clears us as a secondary supplier to them and other Lockheed suppliers, officially opening us up to a pool of new clients such as Pacific Scientific. We’ve also begun planning the construction of a new neutron imaging facility on the United States West Coast. Details will follow later this month.

Heliopolis exteriorWhile all this was happening, we were also building our new headquarters Heliopolis next door to PNIC. Construction on this new 50,000 square foot facility, designed from the ground up to meet the needs of our growing business, progressed throughout the year until coming to completion in November. By the end of December, all of our operations had been transferred over from our previous location in Monona to Heliopolis. While we couldn’t throw a grand opening party for our new headquarters like we would have wanted to, you can take an online tour on our blog.

2020 by the Numbers

In the past year, we…

  • Added 26 new staff members and 4 new interns
  • Produced over 7.7×1019 (77,000,000,000,000,000,000, or 77 quintillion) neutrons in total
  • Took over 2700 neutron images
  • Secured $6 million in private equity funding
  • Had only 2 days of downtime in the 39 weeks PNIC has been open for business—a 99% uptime for our accelerator based neutron imaging system
  • Ran thermal N-ray operations for a total of 680 hours
  • Ran fast N-ray operations for a total of 230 hours
  • Completed construction on a 50,000 square foot headquarters in Fitchburg

ICYMI: Who’s Talking About Us?

Phoenix got a lot of media buzz in 2020. 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 over the past year:

Director of Marketing and Communication Katie Rittenhouse posing for the r/Engineering Reddit AMAOur very own Dr. Evan Sengbusch also stepped up to give an interview about Phoenix for the podcast Innovating with Scott Amyx.

And last but not least, by far one of the most fun and exciting social media events we participated in last year was our second-ever AMA (Ask Me Anything) session on Reddit. This time, we joined the r/Engineering subreddit for a few hours to answer live questions about fusion energy and give career advice to nuclear engineers and prospective engineers in the community. Will we host another in 2021? Most definitely! We love these events and can’t wait to do another.

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