New accelerator in Germany exploring space with the help of Slovenian know-how
Darmstadt, 27 December - One of the world's largest centres for physics research is being built in Germany's Darmstadt - the FAIR complex of ion and antiproton accelerators. It will focus on exploring the structure of matter and the evolution of the universe, with Slovenian expertise actively involved in the project.
The heart of the new FAIR (Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research) centre in Darmstadt, spreading over almost 160,000 square kilometres, will be a 1.1 km long circular accelerator.
"It is one of the largest accelerator centres in the world. The systems will accelerate all beams, from light protons to heavy uranium, and we will also get rare isotopes and secondary antiproton beams," explained Jelena Vesić from the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS).
The most common comparisons of the FAIR project are with the famous accelerator in Cern, Switzerland. "They are different projects. The energies in Cern are higher and very fine details of matter are observed. With FAIR, we are talking more about high intensities," Vesić explained.
"To apply this to the universe, Cern is exploring the universe directly after the Big Bang, while FAIR is dedicated to complex systems, studying stars, supernovae, stellar explosions," she added.
The research at FAIR will therefore aim to investigate a slightly later period in the Universe's formation than Cern. For example, heavy atoms such as gold and lead will be studied in Darmstadt.
FAIR's systems can accelerate the basic particles, ions and antiprotons, to nearly 90% of the speed of light. Heavy particle collisions will then provide answers to many questions about the formation of the elements and matter that surround us today.
The new centre will also offer useful scientific results on a daily basis. The best known are irradiation systems for cancer treatment and materials research. FAIR will also study the impact of radiation on space missions.
Slovenia is actively involved as a partner in the new centre. "FAIR is working with a consortium of high-tech companies that contribute their services and solutions, such as accelerator control and beam diagnostics," said Vesić.
"Our companies are gaining competitiveness and building the foundations for growth of this type of industry. At the same time, it will be a great opportunity for Slovenian scientists," she added. The IJS and the University in Ljubljana are among the partners.
Both institutions have also joined the FAIR GET_Involved programme with a wide range of research topics, which will open up new fields of work and opportunities for Slovenian scientists.
For Slovenian researchers, the main experimental equipment in this field is currently a 2 MeV ion accelerator with four beamlines for research on ionising radiation, and measurement stations for atomic physics research at the Podgorica reactor.
In Darmstadt, they will have the opportunity to work with new technology with completely different intensities, and Vesić explained that research is already underway as part of the project.
"We are using existing detectors on accelerators that will also be used at FAIR. It is a competitive physics programme, where we are optimising the detectors and various experiments are being carried out at the same time," she said.
In addition to Slovenia and Germany, the project includes the UK, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Finland, India, Russia and the Czech Republic as member countries. Its costs were estimated at EUR 3.25 billion, and are likely to go up before launch.
The history of accelerators dates back to the end of the 19th century, with the first accelerator achieving the first nuclear reaction in 1932, and development then advanced after 1950.
Various accelerator experiments have resulted in applications in cancer therapies, irradiation and food preservation, laser technology, the semiconductor industry, X-ray technology, materials control and many other fields.