Muons are produced from a thin graphite target when the energetic proton beam from the ISIS accelerator passes through. They survive for only two millionths of a second but that is long enough to carry out experiments with them. The muon beams are steered to seven experimental areas, three in the ISIS European muon facility and four in the Japanese-run RIKEN-RAL facility.
The main technique employed using muons relies on the fact that they have a spin and so behave like minute magnets. Muons readily implant themselves in samples, and the magnetic environment around them once inside affects their spin in a way that provides atomic-level information. Muons can be used to study a broad range of materials, including magnetic and superconducting samples, molecular systems and chemical reactions, semiconductors, battery materials, organic materials used in displays - to name but a few.
The RIKEN-RAL facility also carries out studies including muon-catalysed fusion - am exotic mode of nuclear fusion which happens at low temperatures, though not yet efficient enough to provide energy - and other atomic and nuclear investigations.