We developed a hydro-magnetic generator

Kommersant-Science is launching a series of interviews with the 2016 winners of the Presidential Award for Science and Innovations for Young Scientists. ILYA ROMANCHENKO, PhD in Physics and Mathematics, senior researcher at the High Current Electronics Institute of the Siberian Chapter of the RAS received the Presidential Award for the development of hydro-magnetic generators of high-power radio pulses that can be used as protection from terrorist threats and in developing biomedical technologies.

We developed a hydro-magnetic generator

“It was clear from the start that it was a serious achievement – the hydro-magnetic generator”.

I got interested in science back in the school days. In the secondary school in the fifth or sixth grade I noticed that Mathematics came easy for me. I was constantly solving some problems, took part in school competitions and even took the top prizes there. But before entering the university I decided that Physics was more interesting as it dealt with the world of the objective, which could be touched, measured, studied in detail. In addition, an evening Physics and Mathematics school was launched at the school I was attending taught by professors from the Tomsk University. Enthusiastic researchers gave lectures to school pupils, gave lessons at a very good level. I was very interested, which back then helped me shape the idea of what I would be working on.


“First I was trying to catch the lightning”

The first thing I engaged myself in was the study of high voltage breakdown. My friends used to joke that I “was trying to catch the lightning”.  It was one of the traditional for our institute, the High Current Electronics Institute. The process looks as follows: a spark is formed by an electric charge – this phenomenon is close to what in reality takes place during a lightning strike. During the study we discovered all sorts of interesting things; in addition it was very beautiful – everything was sparkling and glowing. But that research did not end in anything specific. Thus, I moved onto other research, which subsequently transformed into the project I won the award for.


“Then I got involved in the generation of high-power microwave radiation”

I started working at our Institute in the Department of Physical electronics, which was involved in generation of powerful microwave radiation – with the frequency of 10 GHz and higher. Corresponding capacity there reaches several Gigawatts. This area is very strong for our Russian scientific school. There we were working on the following problem: in order to form that radiation we needed to form a powerful electron beam. We needed to apply a high voltage pulse to the cathode to accelerate the electrons. The application had to be very fast. The time of voltage buildup was to be under one nanosecond, - in less that one billionth of a second the voltage was to rise to hundreds of kilovolts. It is a huge speed, which sets the right conditions for the formation of the electron beam.

Such speed can be reached with the help of escalation and formation of the electromagnetic shock wave. That requires transmission lines filled with ferrite – that was specifically one of the solutions I was working on. It turns out that if a high voltage impulse represents an electromagnetic wave, i.e. it is a running impulse, when it runs along the transmission line filled with ferrite, it runs with the shock front, thus forming the shock wave and voltage builds up at a huge speed.

Use of ferrite transmission lines had been already known and we started experimenting in order to adapt such a solution for our tasks. It was quite successful solution for an applied task.


“We developed a hydro-magnetic generator”

But then after studying some literature I discovered that our colleagues in England were conducting more interesting research. They not simply passed high voltage impulse through a line of ferrite, but also magnetized that line by placing it into solenoid. They obtained a front that was several times shorter, thus yielding a fast buildup of voltage. I proposed to conduct a similar experiment here – to make solenoid and place the line we studied in it. We immediately reached the speed of voltage buildup of not one nanosecond, but of half a nanosecond. The most curious thing is that besides the formation of the shock front we found behind it high frequency fluctuations with the frequency in the order of one GHz. It immediately became clear that we needed to conduct more in-depth research and find the right conditions that would allow boosting the fluctuations. It would allow us to develop new tools that could generate at that frequency.

We started looking for a solution via experiments. We tried various configurations until one of them in fact turned out to be effective. As a result the fluctuations increased significantly. We saw that the magnitude of those fluctuations was increasing along with the length of the ferrite line. We conducted an experiment and achieved a good fluctuation level, i.e. we achieved a powerful radiofrequency pulse. Radiofrequency pulse of such magnitude is usually achieved with the help of an electron beam in electron lamps. There are various limitations there, including x-ray radiation. We managed to find a way to form high frequency fluctuations without an electron beam, with the help of a ferrite line. It immediately became clear that it was a serious achievement – a gyromagnetic generator.

Gyromagnetic generator is called that way as it uses the phenomenon of gyromagnetic precession. In other words, there is such thing as gyromagnetic resonance. For example, there is magnetic nuclear resonance, which is used in MR imaging where the fluctuations at the frequency of hundreds of megahertz is used to identify various tissues. Here we have an electron resonance instead of nuclear – electronic shells of magnetic elements start precessing during magnetization reversal. What does it mean? When we take magnetic material ferrite, it can be magnetized easily. We magnetize it with the help of solenoid and then apply fast voltage change, which creates a fast change of the magnetic field. As a result we manage to change the direction of the magnetic field in the matter of fractions of nanoseconds. The resulting ferrite magnetic moment starts spinning – this typical characteristic of all magnetic materials is called gyromagnetic precession. If the magnetization reversal is very fast the amplitude, the angle of the fluctuation spinning is sufficiently large. Yes, such fluctuations fade fast. But for a certain time period fluctuations serve as sources of radiation. In our line they form radiation.


Application of the technology to fight terrorist threats

We are only beginning to work of the application. There is a certain understanding of how the technology can be applied in fighting terrorist threats. The first steps have been made in the area of biomedical technologies.

The traditional area of application of powerful electromagnetic radiation is the impact on functioning electronic equipment, including equipment on semiconductors. The impact of electromagnetic radiation leads to a disruption in the work of semiconductor elements. They usually work on several volts, but during the impact they can be exposed to hundreds of volts. Thus, for a period of time the work of the device is disrupted. If the device is functioning telecommunications equipment or a transmitter, during the impact the equipment would stop working. In other words the equipment cannot be used for a certain period of time – it will either require a reboot or switching.

There is such an area of application and in terms of the characteristics we are close to being able to apply our invention in this area. Back in the USSR such research was underway: there was an attempt to develop powerful sources, which could not only limit the functioning of a device at a certain distance, but to completely disrupt its work. They failed to accomplish that. In theory we can apply generators to achieve temporary equipment malfunctioning, but the changes can be reversed. In other words a computer we are trying to impact can work normally again after a simple restart. But for certain tasks it is quite sufficient. For example, electronic components that present a threat can be rendered harmless for a period of time.

Gyromagnetic generator differs from the existing equivalents, jammers for example. It has a better impulse effect. If compared to existing solutions, the jamming equipment, the result can be achieved in a shorter period of time. In addition, the impacted device will not only be limited in its functions, but will cease working for a certain period of time.


Biomedical applications

Potentially, our invention can be used to fight cancer. But we are only at the very beginning of the path and have not solved the problem yet. We can impact cells and sub-cell structures with the help of powerful short electromagnetic fields. Short duration of the pulses (several nanoseconds) reflects the fact that the average magnitude is not great. Average magnitude is the magnitude of a series of pulses as the sources form a number of pulses, not a single one. Such series can be produced at various frequencies, for example at 100 pulses per second. It is a known fact that biological impact is most effective in the range of 10-20 pulses per second. In such a series the power of impact on the biological object is not that high (watts or fractions of a watt) and no heat is produced. But such pulse impact due to the electric fields has another effect, not a thermal one.

Cell membranes are most sensitive to electric fields, as they have their own electric fields. The fields on membranes and around them support cell metabolism.  In other words everything that takes place via various channels inside the cell is linked to applied potential – the electric fields. Thus we primarily apply the impact to the membrane. The permeability of the membrane is thus stimulated. Under the impact of applied fields the permeability increases – either more pores are formed, or conditions for their opening are set. Some processes start taking place via those formed pores: either something exits the cell or something is injected into it. We came to this result by experiments, which we have been conducting for two years together with biologists.

As we have known for a long time, such high voltage signals with high intensity of electric fields are interesting in terms of their impact on cancer cells. Many people around the world work on this issue. Here is how the task is defined: we need to provide electroporation of membranes by intensive electric field. What is the goal? Initially the idea was that this method (via opening a huge number of pores) could kill cancer cells. Now the direction has changed: when the pores open under the influence of electric fields antibiotics can be injected into the cell before they subsequently close. Such methods are already used to treat skin cancer in Europe: two electrodes are applied to the skin tumor and after their impact antibiotics are released. This method significantly increases the share of the antibiotic that penetrates the cell, which is usually extremely small.

We are looking to provide the necessary conditions during the impact of high frequency fields, which would allow a deeper impact on the tumor located not on the surface, but inside a human body. Currently it is a great problem. Unlike skin cancer, electrodes cannot be applied from inside. But high frequency radiation is able to penetrate inside. Consequently, it is possible to deliver the electric field inside the cells without electrodes. A large group of our researchers are trying to find ways to do that. We are in close cooperation with oncology specialists. I believe we are capable of solving this problem. But currently we are still at the beginning of the process. To successfully complete our research is not simply a goal of ours, but it is a dream.

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