News & Analysis Physics World  August 2017

Work starts on nuclear physics centre

Shovel ready Officials break ground at the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany. (Gabi Otto / GSI)

Construction began last month on a huge, new nuclear-physics accelerator complex that will eventually provide scientists with a selection of very intense and energetic particle beams. The 1.6bn Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR), which is being built at the GSI heavy-ion lab in Darmstadt, Germany, is expected to be fully operational by 2025. FAIR has 10 members, including India and Russia, and about 300 scientists are expected to use it once operational.

FAIR will consist of two synchrotrons with a circumference of 1100 m built on top of one another in an underground tunnel. Ions from the GSI’s existing 200 m circumference synchrotron will be fed into the new double-ring facility, which will multiply the intensity of the ion beams by a factor of 100. The new rings will also increase the maximum energy of the beams by a factor of 20 to about 35 GeV.

Two million cubic metres of earth will have to be removed to build the underground tunnel that will house FAIR’s main accelerator rings – SIS100 and SIS300. Engineers say that the construction of the whole facility will need 600,000 cubic metres of concrete, together with 65,000 tonnes of steel.

The UK, which became an associate member of FAIR in 2013, will participate in the Nuclear Structure, Astrophysics and Reactions with Rare Isotope Beams experiment – one of four “experiment complexes”. The others are: Atomic, Plasma Physics and Applications; Compressed Baryonic Matter; and Antiproton Annihilation at Darmstadt.

Nuclear physicists will, for example, use the accelerated ions to generate beams of novel, unstable nuclei by firing them at a target made of a light element such as beryllium, as well as colliding heavy ions at high energies to generate a quark–gluon plasma. Atomic physicists, meanwhile, will use the facility to explore the properties of antihydrogen, which consists of an antiproton and a positron.

“FAIR will create unique opportunities for cutting-edge research, with enormous discovery potential,” says Paolo Giubellino, scientific managing director of FAIR and GSI. “Scientists will be able to study the universe in the lab: FAIR will address fundamental problems such as the origin of heavy elements in the universe or the structure of neutron stars, but also applications from material sciences to medicine.” As well as leading to advances in basic research through international collaboration, Giubellino hopes that FAIR will also be “a motor for technological innovation while developing the next generation of scientists and engineers”.

Michael Banks