India in super cyclotron club
India has joined the exclusive club of nations with superconducting cyclotron capability. Recently, the director of the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre (VECC), Bikash Sinha, announced the successful completion of the Rs 100 crore project—only the fifth in the world—that had been stalled for years due to sanctions following the Pokhran nuclear tests. The four other set-ups are in America and Europe. The device accelerates charged particles close to the speed of light and is vital for frontline basic and applied research in nuclear sciences. The radio isotopes and proton beams it generates can be used in critical medical applications like treating brain tumor and eye cancer. At present, there is no healthcare facility in India that offers non-invasive proton beam surgery, which pinpoints and destroys cancerous cells. The device has a 100-tonne ironcore superconducting magnet with a magnetic field of 5 tesla (about 100,000 times the Earth’s magnetic field) and an 8 tonne superconducting coil that is kept cooled at -269°C. This has given the VECC the capability to develop futuristic energy storage and transport systems. It can be used to ensure uninterrupted power supply by releasing energy stored in coils. It can also lead to transport systems that make travel lightning quick, in excess of 500 km/hr using magnetic levitation. “The successful commissioning of the superconducting cyclotron is a huge achievement for Indian science as there’s no such facility in Asia, Australia, South America or Africa. Nearly 70% of the component and systems were indigenously developed. The embargo after the 1998 nuclear blasts delayed the project by three-four years but it also led to a lot of learning,” said VECC executive director Rakesh Bhandari. “India now has the knowhow to create magnets required for magnetic resonance imaging devices. It will also generate radio-isotopes used in gamma cameras for tumour and cancer diagnosis. Such isotopes will be generated commercially at the medical cyclotron being built at Rajarhat.” The scientists at VECC are now keen to build a fixed energy cyclotron that will emit proton beams to treat cancer.