February 9, 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the official commissioning of TRIUMF’s main 520 MeV cyclotron – a particle accelerator that pushes the frontiers of research into the structure and origin of matter, as well as material and medical science. The machine was first commissioned during a ceremony on February 9, 1976 by then Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
"I don't really know what a cyclotron is,
but I am certainly very happy Canada has one!"
– former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, 1976
For four decades, TRIUMF's workhorse cyclotron has been a central component of Canada's science and innovation engine. Accelerating over 1000 trillion protons per second, it fuels the Canadian research community's quest for answers, deepens our fundamental understanding of the Universe, and enables cutting-edge science and technology that has a tangible impact on our daily lives.
As the largest in the world, the cyclotron was built by physicists and engineers right here in Vancouver, and was recognized as an IEEE Engineering Milestone in 2010 for its unique design and prowess. This feat of engineering, which accelerates over protons up to three quarters the speed of light, continues to be the dynamo behind TRIUMF's mulitdisciplinary research program, a key asset in advancing fundamental, applied, and interdisciplinary research for science, medicine, and business.
About TRIUMF's 500 MeV Cyclotron
A cyclotron is a type of particle accelerator that uses powerful electric fields inside a large electromagnet to accelerate charged particles (like ions). The particles are accelerated inside an air-free chamber between the poles of an electromagnet whose magnetic field guides the particles in a circular path. The particles are accelerated by 'kicks' of electric voltage every half turn, causing the particle to trace a spiral path outward. At the outside edge of the tank, the particles are extracted into air-free pipes called beam lines, which lead to the various experimental halls.
- Total magnet weight: 4000 Tonnes
- Magnet diameter: 17.1m (59ft)
- Magnetic field: Up to 5760 gauss. In comparison, the Earth's magnetic field is about 0.5 gauss.
- Current required by the magnets: 18,400 Amps
- Electric Field Frequency: 23 million cycles per second (23 MHz)
- Time required for acceleration: 326 microseconds (1/3000th of a second)
- Particle speed at maximum energy: 224,000 km/s. At this speed you could travel from the earth to the moon and back in three seconds.
- Particles accelerated per second: 1000 trillion. TRIUMF has one of the most intense proton beams in the world.