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Video Blog: New SwissFEL technologies and their transfer to broader application

The pulse-to-pulse stability is critical for achieving maximum performance. The new modulator can guarantee this stability with an astonishing precision.
The pulse-to-pulse stability is critical for achieving maximum performance. The new modulator can guarantee this stability with an astonishing precision.

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Innovation Areas


For the PSI’s SwissFEL project, Ampegon and ETH Zurich have developed an innovative short pulse modulator for high power microwave amplifiers. The pulse-to-pulse stability is critical for achieving maximum performance at the SwissFEL. Moreover, up-time and energy consumption are crucial for achieving low operational costs for such an expensive machine. For this reason, special emphasis was given to these topics as part of an open innovation process while the modulator system was being developed.

For this high level of technological innovation, Ampegon’s work was given the Swiss Technology Award 2016 in the “Innovation Leaders” category.

PARK INNOVAARE: The development of the modulator was a complex development project that you did not manage all by yourself. What was the key to finding the right partners?

Marcel Frei, Head of R&D at Ampegon AG: As a matter of fact, we had a number of partners on board, including our client and customer, the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), ABB and a number of critical suppliers. With such a challenging project, it is essential for each partner to be genuinely interested in the project – as well as the technological competence of the partners, of course, which is necessary anyway. This is the only way for the collaboration to be a success. And the necessary level of mutual trust must not be underestimated since there will inevitably be iterations and delays. You can manage those better if you have a common level of understanding.

What did you learn from the project and would like to share with others? What is essential to do, what better not?

The most important thing is the trust-based cooperation of all the stakeholders. You find very quickly that what you manage together is much more than one party alone would be able to achieve. No less decisive is the common understanding that iterations and the inevitably resulting delays are unavoidable. We learned in the course of the project that it is better to attempt to anticipate and reasonably plan for them. This may sometimes test the patience of all the organizations involved (and their owners), but there simply is no other way. For this reason, agile development methods can really make a key contribution to the success of the project.

Beyond the highly specific field of application in the field of scientifically used particle accelerators, what applications are there for this short pulse modulator?

Particle accelerators with pulsed performance systems are not only used in scientific areas. More and more often, they are also designed (sometimes as a smaller model) for other purposes, for example in cancer treatment for proton therapy. One totally different area of application for the technology outside of the particle accelerators is the Pulsed Electric Field (PEF). These applications include the sterilization of liquids, treatment of food, and electroporation, which briefly makes cell membranes permeable, for example to enable drugs to be introduced into the cell. The technological requirements in that context are not as extremely high as for a scientific particle accelerator, but the technology can easily be redimensioned.

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