From ITER to cancer treatment

Cosylab, a spin-off from EUROfusion’s Slovenian Research Unit, the Jožef Stefan Institute, began its journey in 2001 after successfuly implementing a very complex control system for ANKA, die ‘Angströmquelle’ Karlsruhe. The group of seven physics students decided to plunge into the world of start-ups after the successful completion of the Karlsruhe project and Cosylab was born. Today it has become a leading partner for software engineering setting up infrastructures for complex machines worldwide.

Special software for complex devices

The Slovenian start-up gained knowledge which could be used to serve various big science projects, including particle accelerators, ion beams and tokamaks. All these machines run on a highly distributed network of computers. An ordinary software company would not be able to set up such a complex computing infrastructure. “The system needs to reliably ensure a myriad of very difficult tasks, ranging from real-time process control to operator interfacing and the acquisition and storage of large quantities of data”, says Rok Šabjan, a founding member of Cosylab. Cosylab’s specialist knowledge in integrating the right software into specilaised devices, like ANKA and similar projects, came in handy when ITER constructions began. Cosylab won the contract for setting up the first version of CODAC (Control, Data Access and Communication), ITER’s basic control programme. And it formed the groundwork for developing ITER’s system further. Today, Cosylab continues to support regular updates of CODAC and carries out training and support for ITER developers.

From tokamaks to medical devices

Cosylab has expanded into a second industrial sector: control systems and support for medical devices. Particle accelerators, Cosylab’s original field of interest, are also used in medicine, for example, for treating cancer. Proton and carbon ion therapy machines accelerate a beam of particles and deliver it very accurately into the tumour. This kind of treatment is called proton, ion or simply particle therapy. In the medical sector, the supplier needs to prove that his machine works safely and effectively, as required by standards and regulations. “They are different than the ones that apply to ITER of course, but in the end they are quite similar, since we are talking about high integrity systems in both cases”, adds Rok. Cosylab no longer has much in common anymore with a student’s start-up. It now runs offices in Japan, the United States, China and Sweden with a total of 170 people working under its roof.

Yes, it was a lot of work and difficult at times, but it helped us to grow and learn. It includes, for example, administrative knowledge as well as management skills for large projects. In fact, the lessons learned from the ITER project had prepared us perfectly for working in the medical sector.

Rok Šabjan