The MedAustron project: an example of large-scale technology transfer

In January this year, CERN’s Director-General Rolf Heuer handed over the first ion source to the MedAustron therapy centre in the town of Wiener Neustadt in the presence of the Austrian authorities. This milestone marks the beginning of the transition from the development and design phase to the commissioning of the new facility.


Handover of the ion source to MedAustron on 11 January, 2013. From left to right: Michael Benedikt (Project Leader MedAustron at CERN), Karlheinz Töchterle (Austrian Federal Minister of Science and Research), Erwin Pröll (Governor of Lower Austria), Rolf Heuer (Director-General CERN), Klaus Schneeberger (Lower Austrian State Parliament, Head of EBG MedAustron Council).

The goal of the MedAustron project is the construction of an ion-therapy and research centre, based on a synchrotron accelerator complex, in Austria (for more about the technical part of the MedAustron project, click here). “MedAustron will be the first large-scale accelerator facility in Austria and for its realisation agreements have been set-up between the province of Lower Austria, the construction company EBG MedAustron and CERN,” says Michael Benedikt, the MedAustron project leader. Erwin Pröll, Governor of Lower Austria, continues: “MedAustron is a key project for establishing Lower Austria on an international level as a research and high-tech-medicine region. More than 1,000 patients per year will receive treatment at MedAustron in the future. The impressive progress of the project would not have been possible without the substantial support of CERN.”

The design of the MedAustron accelerator complex is based on the CERN Proton Ion Medical Machine Study (PIMMS) and its further development and technical implementation by the Italian CNAO foundation. Since such a facility is anything but a standard solution, Lower Austria and EBG MedAustron requested CERN's involvement in the realisation of the Austrian project. For a period of four years now, CERN staff have helped to build up a team of engineers and technicians employed by EBG MedAustron, and have trained them at CERN. Together, they designed the particle accelerator and built and procured its components, in some cases also relying on the expertise and technical design of CNAO. Substantial help was also provided by PSI, in particular for the gantry and beam delivery design. “The CERN-MedAustron collaboration is a perfect example of technology transfer from fundamental research to a practical application in a Member State,” said Rolf Heuer.

One of the main goals for 2012 was the operation of a test stand at CERN, designed to qualify the pre-injector. The test stand was operated in the ISR hall 184 and achieved the nominal perfomance in December 2012. “Today, the main common goals, i.e. the development and construction of the accelerator components and the training of MedAustron personnel, have been successfully achieved, allowing the timely start of accelerator installation in Austria,” says Michael Benedikt. “This set-up has given EBG MedAustron trainees the unique opportunity to acquire CERN’s know-how in the diverse fields of accelerator design, construction and operation.”

MedAustron injector test stand at CERN in building 184.

The work carried out in the framework of the MedAustron project also created synergies with other CERN projects: the MedAustron vacuum control system, entirely built from off-the-shelf components, has been successfully used in the Linac4 test set-up; a novel synchrotron radiofrequency system jointly developed for the MedAustron project and the CERN PS Booster will find its first application in the MedAustron synchrotron; the power converter control uses the top-notch technology of CERN’s accelerators. There is a little bit of the LHC experiments in the accelerator, too: the accelerator control system and several of its core components are derived from technologies used in the CMS experiment.

The MedAustron building in Wiener Neustadt was completed in autumn 2012 and, with the completion of the accelerator component production, the focus of activities will shift to installation and commissioning in Wiener Neustadt in the course of 2013. This will mark the successful completion of large-scale knowledge transfer from CERN to MedAustron and Austria and from fundamental research to medical application.

“The future operation of MedAustron as a research facility will further strengthen the links that have been created with this project between Austria and CERN,” underlined Karlheinz Töchterle, Austrian Federal Minister of Science and Research.

by Antonella Del Rosso & Michael Benedikt