Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Training network takes ion beam science and technology forward

Space debris removal and targeted tumour therapy both use ion beam technology. However, this exciting and diverse field needs highly qualified personnel.
Training network takes ion beam science and technology forward
Ion beams have paved the way towards the creation of new materials and materials synthesis. As such, ion beam material modification and analysis have become a cornerstone of progress in areas as diverse as semiconductors, cancer treatment, forensic analysis and cultural heritage. Despite such progress, widespread application in industry is being held back because personnel lack qualifications and experience.

Moreover, a recent foresight review that drew upon views of European, American, Australian and Japanese scientific communities determined that one of Europe’s key priorities was to ensure the next generation of researchers receives training in new advances in ion beam technologies and applications.

The EU-funded SPRITE (Supporting postgraduate research with internships in industry and training excellence) project aimed at ‘alleviating these shortcomings by training tomorrow’s scientists and engineers in this exciting, multidisciplinary and rapidly moving field,’ says project coordinator Professor Karen Kirkby. ‘The project will ensure Europe and European industry are well placed to embrace this new technology and able to play a leading role in the ion beam domain.’

Advancing the state of the art in ion beams

A multidisciplinary training network was established comprised of leading European ion beam laboratories. These national centres of excellence operate ion beam technologies for surface modification and analysis in materials science, biomedicine and environmental science.

Network implementation was further facilitated by the fact that SPRITE participants were already successfully working together in the EU-funded SPIRIT Infrastructure project. ‘SPRITE focused on the education and training aspect of the knowledge, expertise and applications generated within SPIRIT,’ notes Prof. Kirkby. ‘It can be viewed as the enabler for the industrial uptake of SPIRIT research, building upon its successful joint research activities.’

SPRITE trained 10 early-stage researchers (ESRs) and 4 experienced researchers (ERs) in ion beam technology and applications through training events, workshops and conferences. In total, 33 secondments were implemented outside researchers’ host laboratories in industry and at other leading institutions.

Developing researchers’ skills and expertise in pioneering beam approaches

The innovative training scheme ‘provided all researchers with the opportunity to gain real-world experience and “industry facing skills” in the private and public sectors,’ stresses Prof. Kirkby. ESRs and ERs designed projects that covered ‘hot topics’ in research using ion beams. Such initiatives improved understanding of the treatment of cancer through knowledge of the science underpinning ion therapy. They also improved materials knowledge of new types of semiconductor and optical devices.

Research yielded advances in single ion irradiation of living structures within cells. In addition, it led to the development of a model for gold nanoparticle incorporation into cells and a prototype X-ray colour camera for use on a range of geological samples. Some of the developed techniques are now available to users across Europe. The camera is being tested in collaboration with an SME.

SPRITE outcomes have been disseminated worldwide via the International Atomic Energy Agency. This helped to secure global collaborations for ESRs and ERs. Some findings are now being applied to proton therapy studies in the United Kingdom and other promising new centres in Europe.

Most ESRs obtained their PhDs and are working in sectors where there is a recognised need. ‘SPRITE has put Europe in an excellent position internationally, and helped to address an area where there is a skills shortage,’ concludes Prof. Kirkby. One day, such coordinated research efforts may result in new treatments for cancer and other medical conditions.


Life Sciences


Ion beam, SPRITE, postgraduate research, internships, industry
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