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Big science at very low energies

Institut Laue-Langevin
The reactor dome at the Institut Laue-Langevin

By Hamish Johnston

Particle physics usually conjures up images of electrons or protons smashing together at extremely high energies. But when I visited the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, France, I met two physicists who do particle physics and cosmology using neutrons that are so lethargic they move slower than your average sprinter. Forget about the TeV (1012 eV) particle energies at the Large Hadron Collider, the energy of these neutrons is measured in neV (10–9 eV).

This means that these ultracold neutrons can be stored for long periods of time – and carefully poked and prodded to reveal their secrets. You can read more in this interview with ILL’s Oliver Zimmer and Peter Geltenbort.

I also recorded a broad-ranging interview with Andrew Harrison, who heads up the science division at ILL. I asked Andrew about the role that ILL’s reactor-based neutron source will play once the accelerator-based European Spallation Source (ESS) starts up in Sweden in about eight years’ time. That interview will appear online later this month.

Looking forward to October, Michael Banks is putting the finishing touches on a bumper Physics World supplement on “big science”. As well as looking at the challenges involved in making neutrons at the ESS, the supplement will also look at the ITER fusion facility, the Extremely Large Telescope, the Large Hadron Collider and much more…so stay tuned.

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