It has cost £200m, it works something like a disco mirrorball, and it uses some of the more arcane laws of physics to harness the behaviour of sub-atomic particles. The Isis 2 target station, which opened this week at
’sRutherford Appleton Laboratory
, would seem to be one of those pure-science gadgets which tend to rile certain sections ofThe Engineer’s
readership — endless particles banging into each other, but to what end? It’s very far from that, however, and in this case the end is very useful.
2 is one of the world’s most powerful microscopes, and it’s proving invaluable for engineers.
For the uninitiated,
Whatever the reason, international research groups are queuing up to use this British resource for highly practical applications, and it’s fostering cross-disciplinary thinking. Not bad for a facility which, like all high-tech, expensive capital investments, was met with cynicism when it was first mooted. The second target will provide longer-wavelength neutrons with a greater control of intensity than Isis 1, and will therefore be able to study lager molecular structures and perform experiments faster, making it even more attractive to visiting researchers.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that much of the interesting and innovative development in engineering is happening where the discipline’s boundaries become fuzzy and merge with the sciences; combining insights from many sources into a practical whole is, after all, the hallmark of engineering. It seems likely that
Special Projects Editor