Cheers and applause as £4 million neutron instrument is lowered into place

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Engineers install the detector tank of Polaris

Engineers install the £4million detector tank of the Polaris neutron instrument at the ISIS Neutron Source
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Engineers and scientists at STFC’s ISIS neutron source faced nervous moments on Friday (11 November 2011) when a new £4 million instrument that took five years to design and build, was lifted and lowered into its fixed position by a 30 tonne crane.

Polaris, a ‘super microscope’ is one of the most advanced neutron instruments in the world.  It will measure objects on the nanometre scale, a million times smaller than a speck of dust.  The giant camera will make images of the atomic structure of materials and will be able to watch chemical reactions in real time.  Measuring the positions of atoms in a material allows you to understand completely why a material behaves the way it does.

Academics and industry will use Polaris to:

- improve the performance of laptop and mobile phone batteries
- find the structure of new pharmaceutical drugs to understand how they interact with molecules in the body responsible for diseases like Alzheimers
- develop new magnetic materials that can be used to make new forms of computer memory


Around £3.6 million has been spent on items such as electronics, cables and detectors with about 90 per cent being spent with UK companies. The project is a collaboration between the UK, Sweden and Spain.

John Randall who is in charge of installing the instrument said: “When you have seen first-hand the level of detailed work that has gone into constructing an instrument like Polaris, to see it lifted in the air on the crane, even though you know the crane is fully capable of lifting it, is a really nerve-wracking experience. I’m just relieved to see it in place now!”


Dr Stephen Hull, lead scientist on the project said: “Polaris will allow us to make measurements up to 30 times faster than we could before and follow chemical reactions in real time opening up new areas of science. Demand from the community to use the instrument is high, and we already have a queue of experiments waiting for it to come online. I’m looking forward to seeing results from the new rechargeable battery and fuel-cell materials that I’m working on with our Swedish collaborators.”

Commissioning of the instrument will begin in December 2011 and it is expected to be fully operational by February 2012.

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