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Good news from Japan

By Matin Durrani

After all the bad news coming out of Japan following last month’s devastating earthquake and tsunami — finally some good news, at least for the country’s scientific community.sacla.jpg

Researchers at RIKEN and the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (JASRI) have officially launched a new X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) facility at the SPring-8 lab west of Kyoto.

Dubbed SACLA (the SPring-8 Anstrom Compact Free Electron Laser), the facility is pronounced “sa-cu-ra” and means “cherry blossom” in Japanese. It will come fully on line by the end of this year and will be used for a wide range experiments in condensed-matter physics and in atomic and molecular science.

SACLA is only the second free-electron laser in the world, the other being at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Stanford, California. (Watch our exclsuive video report from last year for more details about free-electron lasers.)

Elsewhere in Japan, however, physicists are still coming to terms with the impact of the earthquake on the country’s scientific facilities. New pictures have been released of damage to the massive new J-PARC facility at Tokai, which lies about 120 km south-west of Tokyo and consists of two proton synchrotrons, a neutron source, a neutrino experiment and a hadron facility all rolled into one. The images show the synchrotron flooded with about 4cm of water, as well as cracks in local service roads, damaged pipes, and buildings bent and distorted (see below). Thankfully, the problems are not too severe but they are certainly a setback for the facility.



Finally, without wanting to be too flippant following the damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant, which officials today have put at a maximum, level-seven alert on the International Nuclear Event Scale, we couldn’t help raising a smile at an amusing new cartoon film on YouTube that likens the emissions from the facility to those from a toddler in nappies. The film has already had 1.6 million views and rising (see below).

Oh yes, and to put the radiation release from Fukushima into context, don’t forget the great graphic from comic-strip website xkcd by physics graduate Randall Munroe that we commented on a couple of weeks ago. It’s by far the best thing we’ve seen to put radiation fears into perspective.

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