Scintillation Materials Research Center Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Scintillation Materials Research Center director Chuck Melcher, left, talks with College of Engineering dean Wayne Davis at the center's 10th anniversary celebration.

Scintillation Materials Research Center director Chuck Melcher, left, talks with College of Engineering dean Wayne Davis at the center’s 10th anniversary celebration.

In the ten years since its founding, the Scintillation Materials Research Center in UT’s College of Engineering has become one of the world’s leading centers for the discovery, development, and application of scintillators—materials that emit light when in the presence of radiation, providing a valuable detection method.

Distinguished guests, alumni, and key partners were on hand to mark that anniversary recently at a celebration of the center and its various industrial and academic partners, particularly its founding partner, Siemens.

The center’s research has been impactful in a number of ways, perhaps most importantly in cancer detection and homeland security.

While the two might seem extremely different, the center’s basic work of detecting radiation helps tie them together.

“This center is an example of what we can do when we partner with industry,” said Wayne Davis, dean of the college. “This celebration is a great showcase not only of what the SMRC has accomplished, but what is possible when we get together with leading businesses in the scientific field.”

One such business, Siemens Medical Imaging, was responsible for the founding of the SMRC and continues to support much of the center’s research.

Beginning as CTI Molecular Imaging Inc., a group of UT alumni engineers started out by specializing in PET and CT scanners for use in the medical community, work that led to Time magazine recognizing the group’s scanner as the medical invention of the year in 2000.

Siemens later acquired CTI and conceived a partnership that became the SMRC.

Siemens executives were on hand Thursday to talk about that teamwork.

“When you work together with another entity on something that is truly groundbreaking, something that has the potential to change lives, it requires trust in your partner,” said Jim Williams, CEO of Siemens Molecular Imaging. “Your relationship has to be strong and it has to be open. That’s what we have with UT and that’s what’s helped resolve a lot of problems in the processes and developments we have.”

Williams talked about the development of the PET scan in particular, and how the work being done by the center with Siemens is important to bringing that life-saving technology to a greater slice of the population.

He said cost limits the availability of PET scans to much of the world but the center’s ongoing research could lead to more efficient materials with a reduced price tag.

Mark Andreaco, vice president of Siemens Detector Center, said technology development can be challenging if businesses are too focused on maintaining their bottom line rather than making improvements, but that Melcher was a visionary.

“He was interested in advancing the science, not just the product at hand,” said Andreaco.

UT chemistry professor George Schweitzer played a key role, too, helping find a new way to process a key material manufacturers had to lower their costs.

Melcher noted that more than fifty undergraduate and graduate students have come through the center in the past decade, contributing work that has been cited throughout the scientific community.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)