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MIT acquires accelerator, paying only moving costs

The Department of Nuclear Engineering has acquired a $3.5 million electron accelerator from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York for the cost of dismantling, packing and moving the 231/2 tons of equipment -- about $100,000.

The MM50 Scanditronix Racetrack Microton, which emits a 5-to-50MeV electron beam, was delivered to Building NW13 last Friday. It will be stored until an appropriate permanent location is determined.

The deal was set in motion last summer when Senior Research Scientist Richard C. Lanza of nuclear engineering heard from a Sloan-Kettering colleague that the New York hospital was planning to scrap the seven-year-old Microtron to make room for new equipment. Knowing its value as a research tool, Dr. Lanza broached the idea of negotiating a rescue operation with Professor Jeffrey P. Freidberg, head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering

While Dr. Lanza approached his New York counterparts, Professor Freidberg conducted internal discussions on how to pay for the operation. He found a sympathetic and enthusiastic audience in John B. Vander Sande, acting dean of the School of Engineering, and Professor David J. Litster, vice president for research. They raised several relevant questions. Professor Freidberg had the answers.

Where will it go? "Don't worry, we'll find a place," Professsor Freidberg replied at the hastily scheduled meeting. Who'll use it? "Don't worry, there will be plenty of people interested." What will it be used for? "Don't worry, there will be plenty of projects."

There are many possible avenues of research that could involve the Microtron, such as isotope production, airport security, contraband detection, waste technology, neutron production, X-ray production, photon activation analysis and radiation therapy.

"If I had more time, I could have made a more credible representation," Professor Freidberg said. He is now accepting proposals for Microtron-related projects.

Once the deal was struck for Sloan-Kettering to donate the machine to MIT, swift action was imperative.

In order to remove four large components that would not fit on Sloan-Kettering's freight elevator, a crane was required to pluck them off the roof. To do this, traffic had to be shut on East 67th Street between York and First Avenues. That could be done only on a weekend. Further complicating the operation, the weekend of October 31-November 1 was out of the question (the New York Marathon took place that Sunday) but the move had to be completed before Thanksgiving.

The manufacturer, Scanditronix Medical AB of Sweden, provided an engineer to direct the operation. MIT Principal Research Engineer Gordon E. Kohse and graduate students David L. Chichester, Mark M. Hytros and Roberto Accorsi also were involved. They worked day and night from October 12-24.

"The engineer from Sweden was worth his weight in gold," said Professor Freidberg. "We probably could have figured out how to take it apart ourselves, but it would have taken two months instead of two weeks."

Joined by riggers from J.C. Duggan Inc. of Brooklyn, the MIT contingent packed the parts in wooden crates and cardboard boxes, with industrial-strength clear wrap protecting the delicate components. The 12,000-pound gantry, 7,600-pound racetrack accelerator, 1,350-pound Klystron cabinet (with the Klystron removed) and the 4,800-pound Klystron modulator cabinet were hoisted down flawlessly from the roof of the seven-story building. The parts were temporarily stored by J.C. Duggan at its Brooklyn facility. A 10,000-pound forklift was shipped to MIT to unload the containers.

Working with the skilled riggers was an eye-opener for Mr. Chichester. "These aren't just big strong guys who move heavy objects," he said. "They're serious people who know what they're doing. It's not fun and games for them."

There was some fun on the excursion for Mr. Chichester, who is from Palatine, IL, and had never been to New York . He visited the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and saw "Perfect Crime" on Broadway. "It wasn't so good," he said.

Dr. Kohse decided to check on the storage area on his way to the airport and discovered the futility of searching for a taxi in Brooklyn. Dragging his luggage, he finally hitched a ride to Queens with a Duggan employee and took the subway to Manhattan, where he hailed a cab for LaGuardia Airport. "It's always fun to visit New York," he said.

Before the machine can be reassembled, a 2,000-square-foot permanent site must be found and money raised for the installation. Sponsors and donations are welcome, said Professor Freidberg, who hopes the Microtron will be up and running within a year.

Dr. Kohse expects to be involved in the reassembling process and may apply to use the Microtron for research. Mr. Chichester, who has been at MIT for four years, expects to be long gone. "I should have my PhD by then," he said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 18, 1998.

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