Longest running UK-Japan science collaboration renewed until 2018
02 Jul 2010



For more than 20 years, ISIS has hosted a suite of muon beamlines owned and operated by a team of scientists and engineers from the Japanese RIKEN Nishina Centre for Accelerator-based Science.

Professor Ryoji Noyori and Professor Keith Mason renewed the RIKEN-RAL agreement until 2018 on 2 July 2010. The RIKEN-RAL muon collaboration is the longest running science project between the UK and Japan.

A new agreement signed on Friday 2 July extends 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 RIKEN research institute and the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council enables vital research to continue in areas such as superconducting materials for computing and medical technology and the science underpinning fusion energy.

Nobel Laureate and RIKEN President, Professor Noyori, said that he was proud to be extending this highly successful collaboration. "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," he said. "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."

The RIKEN centre has taken a leading role in applied studies using muons and has developed a wide range of promising applications for societal benefit with research ranging from material science to muon catalyzed fusion.The collaboration has also resulted in tens of millions of pounds of investment into ISIS by RIKEN over the 20 year period.

The RIKEN-RAL group is working on to understand the physics behind high temperature superconductor and research carried out in collaboration with the Universities of London and Oxford (published in Nature in 2009) has made significant contributions towards understanding these materials. Other projects include detecting the signatures of fusion energy (muon-catalysed fusion) to underpin the science behind the search for generating alternative, clean energy and, in collaboration with Toyota Central R&D Labs., studying the movement of electrical charge around laptop and mobile phone battery materials.

"We are honoured to work so closely with RIKEN and its many gifted and distinguished researchers," Professor Keith Mason, STFC Chief Executive said."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.

Twenty years of science

RIKEN is Japan’s flagship research institute and conducts basic and applied experimental research in a wide range of science and technology fields including physics, chemistry, medical science, biology and engineering.

The RIKEN-RAL collaboration was initiated after it was realised that the intense proton beams from the ISIS accelerators used to produce neutrons could also be harnessed to produce an intense source of muons. The first agreement was signed in 1990 for 10 years between RIKEN and the UK Science and Engineering Research Council,  It was renewed in 2000 for a further 10 years and following this third agreement, the collaboration will continue until 2018.

The RIKEN-RAL muon facility began operating 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 2000s to enable fundamental nuclear and atomic physics studies using muons. 

Using muons

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. Muons can be used 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.

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!