Facility set to study effects of cosmic radiation on electronics

Around £11m is to be invested in the first dedicated facility outside of the US that will investigate how microchips respond to cosmic radiation.

The new Chipir facility will use an intense beam of high-energy neutrons produced by ISIS at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire, to study cosmic radiation’s ability to cause failure in electronic systems, particularly for aircraft and road vehicles.

Problems can range from wiping a device’s memory to complete destruction of the electronics.

According to a statement, the new neutron beam line will replicate the cosmic radiation affecting microchips from 100 years of flying time in the space of an hour. The findings are expected to help manufacturers build more reliable electronic systems.

Announcing the funding, David Willetts, minister for universities and science, said: ‘This new beam line will enable scientists to test the very systems that we rely upon the most — the electronic components that keep aircraft in the air and make sure car airbags deploy at the right time.

‘Chipir will be the world’s best facility for screening microchips with neutrons, leading to safer, more reliable electronic systems and encouraging leading scientists and manufacturers to do their research in the UK.’

Chipir will be funded by the Large Facilities Capital Fund, which is administered by central government. The investment will cover the construction of the facility and the software to record the data from the microchip testing.

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