Boost for investment in UK science and technology
Inward investment in UK science and technology received a boost today (Friday 2 July) with the signing of an agreement to extend one of the largest research collaboration projects between the UK and Japan until 2018. The seven and a half year extension of the partnership between the Japanese research institute, RIKEN and the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) enables vital research to continue in areas such as superconducting materials for computing and medical technology and the science underpinning fusion energy.
The agreement, which was signed at a celebratory event at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire, builds on 20 years of collaboration between scientists and engineers at the RIKEN Nishina Centre for Accelerator-based Science in Japan and the ISIS Neutron and Muon Facility at RAL. To date, this collaboration has resulted in tens of millions of pounds of investment into ISIS by RIKEN over the 20 year period.
Nobel Laureate and RIKEN President, Professor Noyori, said, "We are proud to be extending this highly successful agreement with STFC. The RIKEN-RAL partnership is not only at the forefront of muon science, having resulted in over 250 papers being published over the last 20 years; it has furthered the cultural understanding between Japan and the United Kingdom. We look forward to working together on the very promising new developments in muon science in the future, many of which have important potential benefits for society and the economy."
"One area the RIKEN-RAL group is working on is our understanding of superconductors which operate at high temperatures, said Dr Philip King, Leader of ISIS Muon Group.
"Superconductors are used in applications such as hospital MRI scanners but currently have to be cooled to be effective which is very expensive. Research carried out in collaboration with the Universities of London and Oxford, and published in Nature (2009), has made significant contributions to our understanding of these materials".
Other projects include detecting the signatures of fusion energy (muon-catalyzed fusion) to underpin the science behind the search for generating alternative, clean energy and, in collaboration with Toyota Central R&D Labs., increasing our understanding of how the charge moves around in laptop and mobile phone battery materials.
Professor Keith Mason, STFC Chief Executive said," We are honoured to work so closely with RIKEN and its many gifted and distinguished researchers. It is one of the most successful UK-Japan scientific collaborations. Today's agreement not only celebrates the many highlights and achievements of our unique partnership over the last 20 years, it also opens up new possibilities for addressing the exciting future challenges that muon science has to offer."
One example is a new pulsed ultra-slow muon beamline recently installed in the Muon facility. The beamline enables scientists to create low energy muons that make it easier to study very thin layers of materials often used in devices such as computer hard drives. With the new agreement in place, in the next two years scientists aim to increase by a factor of 100 the number of low energy muons produced, helping to maximise research opportunities.
The extension of the partnership will also enable the operation of a unique instrument at the RIKEN-RAL facility - the Chronus Spectrometer-which will make it easier for scientists to study materials under extreme conditions of pressure and temperature using muons. The spectrometer will be especially useful for studying organic LEDs which are used in camera and mobile phone devices to make the images brighter and to produce thinner displays.
The signing of the new agreement today included a keynote lecture by Professor Noyori entitled 'Science and Technology for Future Generations' followed by presentations and tours of ISIS and the RIKEN-RAL Muon facility.
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Images and captions
High resolution images of the RIKEN-RAL Muon Facility and the signing of today's agreement are available on request from the STFC's press office.
Muons are produced naturally high up in the atmosphere by cosmic rays from the Sun's solar wind. Although they can be found everywhere, they are insufficient in number to capture and use for scientific research so have to be manufactured for this purpose. The intense pulsed proton beam provided by the ISIS synchrotron accelerator is used to generate powerful pulsed muon beams.
Muon experiments take place on four experimental stations at the RIKEN-RAL muon facility. Scientists use muons (particles similar to heavy electrons) to explore how materials behave at the atom scale together with other fundamental physics studies. The RIKEN-RAL muon facility has the capacity to manufacture millions of muons every second which are then fired into samples approximately 1cm in size, providing the information the scientists need for their studies.
Muons live very short lives - lasting for only 2 millions of a second before they expire. This means experiments have to be timed to an accuracy of a 1000th of a millionth of a second - 100 times faster than the blink of an eye!
The collaboration is governed by agreements between the two parties. The first agreement between RIKEN and SERC was signed in 1990 for 10 years; the second agreement was signed between CCLRC and RIKEN in 2000, also for 10 years. Today sees the signing of the third agreement which will extend the collaboration until 2018.
The RIKEN-RAL muon facility produced first muons in 1994 and was officially inaugurated in 1995. Initially it consisted of three experimental ports, one for muon catalysed fusion, one for condensed matter and molecular studies, one for low-energy muon production. The facility was expanded by the addition of a fourth experimental port in the early 2000's to enable fundamental nuclear and atomic physics studies using muons. This required extension of the ISIS experimental hall, funded by RIKEN, to provide a new loading bay. The muon beamlines are owned and operated by a team of scientists and engineers from RIKEN.
Japan's flagship research institute conducts basic and applied experimental research in a wide range of science and technology fields including physics, chemistry, medical science, biology and engineering. http://www.riken.jp/engn/index.html
Science and Technology Facilities Council
The Science and Technology Facilities Council ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovate technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships.