DOST acquires electron gun facility PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 16 March 2014 14:21

Scientists and researchers at the Department of Science and Technology Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (DOST-PNRI) have a new toy to play with: an “electron gun” that can actually help improve the standard of living for many Pinoys.

A first in the country, the PNRI’s new 2.5 MeV electron beam accelerator is intended for full-scale research and development as well as semi-commercial E-beam services. It is currently stored at the PNRI compound in Diliman, Quezon City.

The device is a notch more advanced than the current Cobalt-60 Multipurpose Irradiation Facility, which uses gamma-rays for use by food, packaging, medical products, and pharmaceutical industries.

The new E-beam accelerator can deliver the same energy as its Cobalt-60 predecessor, but does so in mere seconds rather than hours. This makes the E-beam far safer, because it minimizes potential exposure.

Faster irradiation also opens the doors to more potential applications, such as improving the quality of automobile parts, plastics, fibers, semiconductors, nanotechnology, and jewelry, as well as better waste management.

Practical applications of radiation

In agriculture, electron beams are used in irradiating food products for sprout inhibition, delaying fruit ripening, pasteurization and microbial decontamination.

It is also used in the medical field for sterilizing medical pharmaceuticals and “high-purity” equipment such as scalpels and syringes. Electron beams can also be used for synthesizing nanogels and microgels such as PNRI’s recently commercialized hydrogels for wounds and burns, a press release said.

The device can also be used to cross-link polymers, a process used to increase the toughness of lighter materials.

“You can practically increase the toughness of much lighter materials such as carbon fiber or reinforced plastic,” said Jordan Madrid, science research specialist from PNRI’s Chemistry Research Section, in a press release.

The higher dose rates would allow for faster irradiation of food and medical products, said Biomedical Research Section head Zenaida De Guzman.

Research initiatives

The Biomedical Research section will be actively involved in research and development studies on the effects of the E-beam on fully cooked meals such as chicken and pork adobo developed for patients needing clean or sterile diets.

“We aim to be able to extend the shelf-life of meals such as adobo compared to our previous results with gamma rays. With electron beams, we could even get faster results at even lesser doses of radiation,” De Guzman said.

Their more recent research on rice-in-a-box style emergency meals for calamity victims consists of fried rice and chicken adobo. The experimental meal may also be developed to serve as military and relief rations.

Fighting pollution

The accelerator’s capabilities are also a welcome development in fighting pollution, particularly the E-beam’s potential in “hygienizing” sewage sludge and in treating or reprocessing waste water and flue gases.

With enough doses, electron accelerators are able to alter the color and composition of gemstones, proving itself useful to the jewelry industry.

The establishment of the electron beam facility in the Philippines received financial support from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Japanese and US governments, and the Department of Science and Technology.

After completing the installation and commissioning of the electron beam facility targeted in the middle of this year, PNRI will conduct trial runs on different samples and products. — TJD