Phoenix Nuclear Labs is getting a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to design and build a device that could impact the way computer chips, medical isotopes and nuclear energy are produced.

Phoenix will work on a device that creates hydrogen ions with a negative charge that can travel as a powerful beam.

The Monona company will collaborate for the next two years with scientists from Fermi National Laboratory, near Batavia, Illinois, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California, on what is expected to be a $1 billion-plus project that will likely take until at least 2020 to complete, said Evan Sengbusch, Phoenix’s vice president, business development.

“To be potentially involved is pretty exciting for us,” Seng-busch said. “The technology being developed in this project is truly at the cutting edge of international high-energy physics research and will improve mankind’s fundamental understanding of how the universe works.”

Sengbusch said Phoenix will modify the technology currently used in its core neutron generator to create negative hydrogen ions instead of positive ions. The project is being funded through a phase two Small Business Innovation Research grant.

He said the Department of Energy is interested in the technology for possible use in a next-generation particle accelerator being devised at Fermi. In the short term, it could be used to produce medical isotopes and computer chips; longer-term, it could help produce nuclear fusion energy, Sengbusch said.

Phoenix, founded in 2005, has 19 full-time and 10 part-time employees.

Being chosen for the project “validates the expertise Phoenix has developed” and its “credibility within the broader scientific community,” Sengbusch said.

Texting with pictures
as well as words

Ever want to insert your own photos or drawings within the content of an email or text message, not just add them as an attachment?

Maybe a photo of the building where you’ll meet or a selfie will let you send a shorter, more pointed text.

BuzzMSG (pronounced: buzz message) is an app released this week by Bad Donkey Social. The company founder, longtime Madison ad man Bill Towell, said Bad Donkey has been testing the technology for the past year.

What it does, Towell said, is let users add their own images and symbols to the standard keyboard’s letters and numbers through what it calls a HyperSlider bar — effectively, an additional line above the keyboard that can be loaded with personalized photos, graphics or favorite words.

“We really, truly think it’s the next big thing,” Towell said. “Anything you can take a picture of, you can inject in a message.”

Towell said he is aiming the app at high school and college students, ages 16-22. To get the word out, he was sauntering down State Street, around the Capitol Square (for the opening of the Dane County Farmers’ Market) and on the UW-Madison campus during the past week along with two donkeys — a reference to the company’s name.

“A good donkey will follow a path. Historically, they are good work animals. But a bad donkey blazes its own trail,” Towell said.

Bad Donkey Social has five employees, offices at 411 W. Main St., and is self-funded so far, Towell said.

The buzzMSG app is available for free and can be used on the iPhone or iPad; an Android version is not out, yet.

Towell said he thinks the technology eventually will be used for other types of communication, such as medical or business documents, and could be a tool for non-traditional learning.

He said he expects Bad Donkey to make money by licensing the technology to companies and creating customized versions for their use.

“But that’s a year or two down the way,” Towell said.

He has high hopes for buzzMSG becoming a new standard for communication. “It’s going to revolutionize how people communicate,” Towell said.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

Subscribe to our Politics email!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Contact Judy Newman at jdnewman@madison.com with tips and story suggestions.