When the announcements were made, Lynkeos Technology Ltd employees could scarcely believe they had collected not one but two titles at the Falkirk Herald Business Awards 2018.
Fast forward two months and staff at the muon imaging firm still smile with pride as they reflect on the moment they were handed our Outstanding Achievement of the Year and Best Start-up gongs.
Lynkeos is the only company in Britain which offers a state-of-the-art 3D imaging system that uses muons — or “invisible particles from outer space” — to examine inside shielded structures like nuclear waste barrels, enabling the industry to safely process and store nuclear waste.
The fact that the firm received the awards little over two years after moving into its base in Abbotsford Business Park, Langlees — selected because of its central location and transport links — indicates the level at which it is operating.
And, having secured £1.6 million in funding from the UK government to set up a muon imaging system at the Sellafield nuclear decommissioning site in Cumbria, the decision to spin out from the Nuclear Physics group at the University of Glasgow in August 2016 is one bosses believe has been fully validated.
Detailing what the recent awards success means to Lynkeos, founder and managing director Ralf Kaiser said: “First of all it’s really good feedback for the team.
“If you’ve been working on something for a really long time it’s great if you get acknowledged by getting an award.
“We had a hunch we might have a chance at the start-up award but absolutely didn’t expect the second one.
“The second thing that’s also really important is if you look at where our company is, we’re negotiating with investors. It’s a good thing if you have an award or two to show.
“I think what we’re doing is quite cool. We use invisible particles from outer space to look into massive shielded boxes of steel and concrete that you can’t look into in any other way and tell you what’s inside.”
Should further investment materialise, and bosses are confident it will, Lynkeos could add to its 14 employees and create as many as 12 new jobs in the near future.
The niche and crucial services that Lynkeos provides, using a detection system comprised of 12 kilometres of scintillating fibers, mean its expertise is regularly in high demand — notably from the Ministry of Defence which is seeking support with dismantling a number of Royal Navy submarines in Rosyth.
David Mahon, Lynkeos director, explained how the technology works and why it is so valuable to a global market.
He said: “It’s a special type of fiber that when a muon passes through it emits a blue light that will travel down the length of the fiber to light sensors.
“We convert the muon into a light signal and then detect the light signal and that’s how we identify where the muon went into our system. If a muon passes close to a uranium nucleus it’s scattered because of the repulsive force.
“The number of protons in the nucleus will dictate how big that scattering is.
“We detect the vector as it comes in and leaves the barrel.
“If you trace the two together at a point in space you can work out the angle it scattered.
“It’s that angle which is synonymous with uranium or whatever material.”
Mr Mahon continued: “Babcock and the Ministry of Defence are dismantling 27 of the submarines from the Royal Navy.
“They’re going to take the nuclear reactor outside so they’re going to need to treat that in the same way as the nuclear industry.
“You’re going to have to dismantle the reactor and treat it as waste. We can look at the waste.
“We can also perform pre-assessments and image the reactor core prior to it coming out the submarine so that they can identify the safest way to do it.”
Although Lynkeos is primarily focused on the nuclear waste industry, the business also plans to expand its services by working with civil engineers to support calculations on bridges.
To achieve that aim, the company is in the process of developing a mobile system that would enable its nuclear physicists to transport detection technology and carry out work on-site.
Mr Mahon said: “We know the technique would work, it’s about the engineering requirements.
“Any challenges within any structure that, conventionally, technologies can’t look into, there’s a chance we could work on them.
“If you want to look into a massive steel or concrete structure, you can’t X-ray or ultrasound it.
“To get information from deep within such a structure, we believe muons are a good alternative.”
Being able to see inside such complex and potentially dangerous structures without using “additional artificial radiation” is a major selling point for the firm.
Mr Kaiser explained: “If you have a way to look into that before you open it up that’s valuable.
“There are no health and safety consequences.
“Think about non-destructive testing technology as a toolbox, what we’re adding is not a Swiss army knife but a really cool new screwdriver — a cosmic muonic screwdriver.”