Case study: When the chips are down
01 Jan 2008



ISIS is helping aerospace companies tackle the challenge of cosmic radiation and its damaging effect on microchips in aircraft.

​​​​High energy neutrons and aerial view of RAL
  • Cosmic neutrons collide with microchips and upset or damage microelectronic devices, particularly in aircraft
  • ISIS can replicate the experience of thousands of hours of flying time in a very short time
  • A new dedicated instrument on the Second Target Station will be capable of recreating 100 years of flying time in an hour. It will accommodate enough neutrons to test several chips simultaneously.

Neutrons in the atmosphere can collide with microchips and upset microelectronic devices. These episodes also affect computers on the ground, but the problem is 300 times greater at high altitude.

A silicon microchip in an aircraft may be struck by a neutron every few seconds. When a neutron hits silicon, the resulting reaction causes an electrical charge shower that can interfere with electronic equipment.

Smaller electronic circuitry is more vulnerable to this buffeting from neutrons, so the problem is compounded by the drive for smaller and more powerful computers.  

One way of tackling the problem is to test the quality and susceptibility of components under accelerated conditions. ISIS can replicate thousands of hours of flying time in a very short time.

Leading aerospace companies in the Spaesrane consortium - (Solutions for the Preservation of Aerospace Electronic Systems Reliability in the Atmospheric Neutron Environment) - have been taking advantage of these capabilities. The consortium includes BAE, Goodrich, QinetiQ and MBDA.

“ISIS is one of few facilities in the world capable of producing enough very high energy neutrons to perform such accelerated testing,” says Andrew Chugg, the Spaesrane project manager.

“The new CHIP IR instrument in the ISIS Second Target Station will result in the creation of the best screening facility in the world.”

Research at ISIS enables manufacturers to mitigate against the problem of cosmic radiation and build triple redundancy into their electronic components. Increased confidence in the quality of electronic systems makes both civil and military aircraft safer.

Research date: January 2008

Further Information

To find out more about using ISIS for commercial research, contact Chris Frost or Uschi Steigenberger.​