ChipIr is unique among the ISIS beamlines as, rather than measuring how a sample scatters neutrons or muons, it is dedicated to irradiating microelectronics with high energy atmospheric-like neutrons.
Atmospheric neutrons result from the interaction of cosmic rays with the Earth's atmosphere, which generates showers of particles, including high energy neutrons. This neutron radiation can disrupt the normal operation of electronic systems both in aviation applications and on the ground. The problems caused can range from altering a device's memory and interfering with logic operation to permanently damaging the electronics.
ChipIr is designed to look at how silicon microchips respond to cosmic-ray neutron radiation, with a measurement of just one hour being equivalent to exposing microchips to high-energy neutrons for over a hundred thousand years in the natural environment. This means it is in high demand from microchip manufacturers looking to accelerate the testing of the resilience of their devices before commercialisation.
Most of these experiments are done through the commercial access route to beamtime, where the results are of high value to the industrial customer and naturally remain confidential. To keep ChipIr at the forefront of irradiation testing, the beamline is also available for academic studies, many of which are also in collaboration with industry. This strong, and growing, academic community has produced the 100 publications, which show just the tip of the iceberg of the large impact, both commercially and academically, that ChipIr is making to radiation testing in the global electronic industry.
The 100th publication saw researchers from Laboratoire d'Informatique, de Robotique et de Microélectronique de Montpellier, bring processors that are common in aviation applications to ChipIr to investigate the errors caused by neutron irradiation and how they might be mitigated.
As well as electronics testing, which has led to the majority of the 100 publications, ChipIr has been used for other, more unusual, experiments such as looking at rocks designed to mimic the soil on the moon to test their radiation shielding effectiveness for human protection.
For more information, visit the ChipIr webpage, or watch this video about how the beamline is used for testing the resilience of components in driverless cars.