In July 2020, the cooling tower fan for the 88-Inch Cyclotron failed and ultimately rendered the accelerator inoperable. A cross-divisional project team sprang into action with one goal: replace the cooling tower and bring the cyclotron back online in less than the year it was expected to normally take.
The 88-Inch Cyclotron, operated by the Nuclear Science Division, is one of only two facilities in the nation that do the majority of Single Event Effects (SEE) testing for spacecraft electronics. Critical tests for the Europa Clipper, which will conduct reconnaissance of one of Jupiter’s moons, and xEMU spacesuits, were delayed by the 88’s failure.
The 88-Inch Cyclotron also has a full lineup of other critical work: It is at the beginning stages of a search for element 120 using the Berkeley Gas-filled Separator (BGS); it conducts key research to understand nuclear structure; and it provides valuable nuclear data for treating cancer and characterizing materials and detectors.
Large cyclotron systems require cooling due to the heat the equipment generates as part of regular operation. Cooling towers operate by using large fans to help cool water that runs over a series of polymer panels and then through the cyclotron building. The water draws away heat and then circulates back to the tower to be cooled again. Without a cooling mechanism, larger cyclotrons like the 88-Inch cannot operate.
The Lab had already been developing a plan to replace the aging cooling tower when the failure occurred. With the cyclotron unexpectedly down, 88-Inch Cyclotron staff and the Projects & Infrastructure Modernization (PIM) division stepped up their planning with the goal of expediting the replacement project. Divisions and departments from across the Lab, including PIM, Facilities, Nuclear Science Division (NSD), Procurement, Engineering, Environment Health & Safety (EHS), and general contractor Innovative Project Solutions, Inc. (IPS), worked on accelerated processes and timelines to restore this key user facility. The expedited handling across all divisions resulted in the project, which should have taken a year, only taking six months.
The 88-Inch Cyclotron’s cooling tower came back online on Feb. 21 and the accelerator began full operation again on March 5. The Berkeley Accelerator Space Effects (BASE) Facility completed its first successful NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) run with the new cooling tower on March 26.
“The 88-inch Cyclotron is essential to the research program of the Nuclear Science Division, in particular our heavy element program which strives to discover new elements and to characterize the chemistry of the heaviest known elements,” said NSD Interim Division Director Volker Koch. “Having it up and running in record time was not only important for the BASE Facility and its customers but also allowed scientists to continue their fascinating research without much delay.”
“This couldn’t have been done unless we had dozens of people all working together to reduce timelines and expedite processes,” said PIM Project Manager Christopher Good. “They all recognized the urgency of the situation and responded at that level.”