Centre for Ion Beam Applications at NUS designated as IAEA’s first Collaborating Centre in Singapore

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Newswise — The Centre for Ion Beam Applications (CIBA), a multidisciplinary research centre at the National University of Singapore (NUS), has recently been designated as an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Collaborating Centre for Research and Development of Accelerator Science and Multidisciplinary Applications. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by both parties on 13 September 2023 to formalise the four-year collaboration.

CIBA is the first Collaborating Centre in Singapore that has been selected and recognised by IAEA and joins a selected group of high standard technical centres with outstanding contributions in nuclear science and technology in the world.

Additionally, CIBA is leading an IAEA Coordinated Research Project (CRP) on single-cell imaging and irradiation using accelerator-based techniques for applications in radiobiology and cancer treatment. The first research coordination meeting for the CRP project was hosted at CIBA on from 18 to 22 September 2023.

The IAEA, an autonomous international organisation within the United Nations system, is the international centre for cooperation in the nuclear field. The Agency engages with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure and peaceful application of nuclear science and technologies. Apart from CIBA, there are currently 66 active IAEA Collaborating Centres across the world.

Based at the Department of Physics under the Faculty of Science, CIBA conducts cutting-edge research on proton- or ion-based technologies to develop new real-world applications in areas such as materials science, biomedical research and communication technologies.

As IAEA’s Collaborating Centre, CIBA will provide a platform for access and utilisation of its state-of-the-art research infrastructure and offer its expertise to conduct a wide range of research projects related to accelerator science. The Collaborating Centre will also develop technologies for real-world applications, such as improving batteries for electric cars, better cancer treatment and diagnosis, determining item origin and authenticity, as well as detection of toxic substances. Another mission of the Collaborating Centre is to enhance knowledge transfer through training and networking.

“The designation of NUS CIBA as an IAEA Collaborating Centre is a testament to our researchers’ quality innovations and expertise. The Collaborating Centre will investigate highly relevant research topics, from materials science to radiobiology, using accelerator-based technologies. We look forward to working with IAEA to spur knowledge transfer and capacity building through local, regional and global research partnerships to develop solutions to real-world problems,” said Professor Koh Lian Pin, Vice Dean (Research and Development) at the NUS Faculty of Science.

Dr Najat Mokhtar, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, added, “CIBA has been a pioneer in nuclear microscopy, ion beam analysis, nanofabrication and cell irradiation for many years. The IAEA Collaborating Centre will leverage CIBA’s phenomenal research facilities to build capacity and transfer knowledge in Singapore, in Asia and beyond.”

Since 2000, IAEA and CIBA have collaborated on many fronts through conducting research studies, organising expert lectures and training courses, as well as sharing of knowledge about accelerator science technologies and advancements. The designation of CIBA as an IAEA Collaborating Centre is a recognition of the longstanding collaboration between both parties.

“While we have embarked on many collaborative programmes with IAEA in the past, the institution of this Collaborating Centre is an important milestone. CIBA is excited about this opportunity to synergise our strong capabilities and expertise in the research and development of ion-based technologies with IAEA’s world-class research infrastructure and research activities. We expect that this partnership will lead to cutting-edge scientific advances and technologies that is expected to create a positive impact,” said Associate Professor Jeroen A. van Kan, Director of CIBA.

With CIBA as the core partner, the new Collaborating Centre comprises two other NUS research institutes: the Singapore Nuclear Research and Safety Initiative (SNRSI) and the Singapore Synchrotron Light Source (SSLS), will jointly support the Collaborating Centre’s activities.

Focus areas and real-world impact

The Collaborating Centre will focus on four thematic areas:

• Ion beams for materials science applications 
The Collaborating Centre will be developing ways to use ion beams to identify the elemental composition and structure of materials. Research in this area will cover a range of applications, such as lithium detection methods for developing advanced batteries for electric cars, and methods to detect foreign elements in microelectronics, environmental and biomedical samples. Advanced ion beam techniques are also highly relevant for space applications and integrated circuit (IC) fault detection. 

• Microscopy and nanofabrication 
The Collaborating Centre will make use of proton beam writing techniques, developed by CIBA, to fabricate nanofluidic lab-on-chip platform technologies to enable molecular biology analysis such as genetic sequencing. In addition, researchers plan to further develop the single ion fluorescence technology. This involves detecting the light produced by a single ion, a field highly relevant for radiobiology and cancer research. 

• Forensics and heritage sciences 
The Collaborating Centre will develop and optimise nuclear and X-ray (synchrotron-based) methods for analysing samples of forensic and cultural interest. Research in this area will look into the best preparation methods for forensic and/or heritage samples and quantification strategies – such as data processing methods, analytical databases for forensic purposes, and protocols for authentication and classifying of artefacts – to better characterise samples in forensic casework situations. Areas such as the composition, structure, origin of materials and techniques used to create cultural heritage objects will be investigated. 

• Accelerators for radiobiology 
The Collaborating Centre also aims to research on improving particle accelerators used for radiobiology applications, with the ultimate goal of enhancing proton beam therapy for tumour eradication to achieve more targeted cancer treatment.

SNRSI will take part in radiobiology and forensic collaborative projects and contribute to the development of nuclear knowledge through education programmes, conferences and workshops.

SSLS, on the other hand, will provide high resolution analytical investigations with high sensitivity imaging technologies based on X-ray absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy. In addition, SSLS will bring their international collaborative network into the project and provide beamtime for the project activities and partners of the Collaborating Centre.

Enhancing knowledge transfer

Further to conducting research and training workshops in the four research areas, the Collaborating Centre will also serve as an avenue to make knowledge of accelerator and nuclear science technologies accessible to students.

The Collaborating Centre will provide undergraduate and postgraduate students with opportunities to learn more about accelerator-based and other nuclear science techniques through summer school courses and research projects.

Advancing cancer treatment through cell imaging and irradiation

Accelerator techniques play an important role in the study of radiation effects in biological cells and provide important information on DNA damage and response that can potentially be translated to clinical trials and improved health outcomes for radiation based therapies. Recent developments such as high resolution ion beam and synchrotron-based X-ray microscopy, as well as sub-cellular targeting techniques, present opportunities for further research.

Addressing this research potential, CIBA led and hosted the first research coordination meeting in Singapore for an IAEA CRP on Single-Cell Imaging and Irradiation in September 2023. The main goal of the project is to develop accelerator technology for improved and better tailored tumour control by proton beam therapy, one of the most advanced forms of radiation cancer treatment available. Novel quantum science-based detectors will be developed for bio-imaging, which will allow scientists to non-invasively view biological functions in real time. The CRP brings together scientists from 12 countries, including IAEA Collaborating Centres like CIBA, to discuss and plan activities and collaborative research to advance the understanding of fundamental questions in radiobiology and cancer treatment. The project will be conducted over five years, until 2028.

The CRP’s research areas include analysing cellular responses to precisely targeted subcellular irradiation; investigating the uptake of nanoparticles to enhance radio-sensitisation facilitated by high-resolution imaging and irradiation; developing protocols for preparing samples of live and fixed cell specimens; and creating novel hardware and software systems tailored to accelerator beamlines for radiobiology and imaging.



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