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ISIS neutron source

ISIS experimental hall for Target Station 1

ISIS is a pulsed neutron and muon source. It is situated at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom and is part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council. It uses the techniques of muon spectroscopy and neutron scattering to probe the structure and dynamics of condensed matter on a microscopic scale ranging from the subatomic to the macromolecular.

Hundreds of experiments are performed annually at ISIS by visiting researchers from around the world, in diverse science areas including physics, chemistry, materials engineering, earth sciences, biology and archaeology.


  • Neutrons and muons 1
  • Science at ISIS 2
  • Instruments 3
    • Target Station 1 3.1
    • Target Station 2 3.2
  • History and background of ISIS 4
  • In Popular Culture 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Neutrons and muons

Neutrons are uncharged constituents of atoms and penetrate materials well, deflecting only from the nuclei of atoms. The statistical accumulation of deflected neutrons at different positions beyond the sample can be used to find the structure of a material, and the loss or gain of energy by neutrons can reveal the dynamic behaviour of parts of a sample, for example diffusive processes in solids. At ISIS the neutrons are created by accelerating 'bunches' of protons in a synchrotron, then colliding these with a heavy tungsten metal target, under a constant cooling load to dissipate the heat from the 160 kW proton beam. The impacts cause neutrons to spall off the tungsten atoms, and the neutrons are channelled through guides, or beamlines, to around 20 instruments, each individually optimised for the study of different types of interactions between the neutron beam and matter. The target station and most of the instruments are set in a large hall. Neutrons are a dangerous form of radiation, so the target and beamlines are heavily shielded with concrete.

ISIS produces muons by colliding a fraction of the proton beam with a graphite target, producing pions which decay rapidly into muons, delivered in a spin-polarised beam to sample stations.

Another view of the ISIS experimental hall for Target Station 1

Science at ISIS

ISIS is administered and operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (previously CCLRC). Experimental time is open to academic users from funding countries and is applied for through a twice-yearly 'call for proposals'. Research allocation, or 'beam-time', is allotted to applicants via a peer-review process. Users and their parent institutions do not pay for the running costs of the facility, which are as much as £11,000 per instrument per day. Their transport and living costs are also refunded whilst carrying out the experiment. Most users stay in Ridgeway House, a hotel near the site, or at Cosener's House, an STFC-run conference centre in Abingdon. Over 600 experiments by 1600 users are completed every year.

A large number of support staff operate the facility, aid users, and carry out research, the control room is staffed 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Instrument scientists oversee the running of each instrument and liaise with users, and other divisions provide sample environment, data analysis and computing expertise, maintain the accelerator, and run education programmes. ISIS is also one of the few neutron facilities to have a significant detector group that researches and develops new techniques for collecting data.

Among the important and pioneering work carried out was the discovery of the structure of high-temperature superconductors and the solid phase of buckminster-fullerene.

Construction for a second target station (TS2) started in 2003, and the first neutrons were delivered to the target on December 14, 2007.[1] TS2 uses low-energy neutrons to study soft condensed matter, biological systems, advanced composites and nanomaterials.

The International Muon Ionization Cooling Experiment (MICE) runs parasitically off the ISIS proton beam.


The instruments currently at ISIS are:[2]

Target Station 1

  • Alf
  • Crisp
  • Engin-X
  • Fires
  • Gem
  • Het
  • Hrpd
  • Ines
  • Iris
  • Loq
  • Maps
  • Mari
  • Merlin
  • Osiris
  • Pearl
  • Polaris
  • Prisma
  • Rotax
  • Sandals
  • Surf
  • SXD
  • Tosca
  • Vesuvio
  • Intermediate Target Station 1, Muon instruments
    • EMU
    • MUSR
    • HIFI
    • RIKEN beamline

Target Station 2

  • Chipir Under Construction
  • Imat Under Construction
  • Inter
  • Larmor Under Construction
  • Let
  • Nimrod
  • Offspec
  • Polref
  • Sans2d
  • Wish
  • Zoom Under Construction

History and background of ISIS

The source was approved in 1977 for the RAL site on the Harwell campus and recycled components from earlier UK science programmes including the accelerator hall which had previously been occupied by the Nimrod accelerator. The first beam was produced in 1984, and the facility was formally opened by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in October 1985.[3]

The name ISIS is not an acronym: it refers to the Ancient Egyptian goddess and the local name for the River Thames. The name was selected for the official opening of the facility in 1985, prior to this it was known as the SNS, or Spallation Neutron Source. The name was considered appropriate as Isis was a goddess who could restore life to the dead, and ISIS made use of equipment previously constructed for the Nimrod and NINA accelerators.

The second target station was given funding in 2003 by Lord Sainsbury, then science minister, and was completed in 2009, on time and budget, with the opening of 7 instruments. In April 2010, the Science Minister, David Willetts gave a £21 million investment[4] to build 4 new instruments, which are due to be brought into operation in 2015.

ISIS was originally expected to have an operational life of 20 years (1985 to 2005), but its continued success led to a process of refurbishment and further investment, which has extended its operational life for a further 20 years. [5]

In Popular Culture

The final episode of series 1 of the Sparticle Mystery was filmed on site.


  1. ^ ISIS Second Target Station Project
  2. ^ "ISIS Instruments Page". Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Linacs at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
  4. ^ "Phase Two instruments". Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  5. ^ BIS report: Big science and innovation (October 2013)

External links

  • ISIS facility
  • ISIS Second Target Station
  • The Science and Technology Facilities Council
  • Bull, Martyn. "Isis". Backstage Science.  

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