Welcome to the TRIUMF FAQ page, where we hope to answer any questions you might have about TRIUMF (scroll for General, Research, Environment, and Outreach information).


What is TRIUMF?

TRIUMF is Canada's national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics and accelerator-based science. It is owned and operated as a joint venture by a consortium of Canadian universities via a contribution through the National Research Council Canada with building capital funds provided by the government of British Columbia.

What are the main goals of TRIUMF?

TRIUMF outlined three goals in its 2008 Mission Statement:

  • Make discoveries that address the most compelling questions in particle physics, nuclear physics, nuclear medicine, and materials science
  • Act as Canada's steward for the advancement of particle accelerators and detection technologies
  • Transfer knowledge, train highly skilled personnel, and commercialize research for the economic, social, environmental, and health benefit of all Canadians

What types of discoveries are made at TRIUMF?

In the life sciences, scientists at TRIUMF have worked on developing PET scanners and radiotracers, which are used to image the location of cancer or other diseases in humans. Also in life sciences, TRIUMF scientists treat ocular melanoma using proton beams to destroy cancer cells in the eye.

In particle physics, TRIUMF researchers and Canadian university scientists played a critical role in developing the ATLAS detector for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and are participating in the T2K experiment in Japan which began in 2009.

The Molecular and Materials Science group is responsible for internationally recognized research in warm superconductors, which have the potential to transform long-distance electrical power distribution, in addition to hydrogen storage research as well as fundamental research of material surfaces and boundaries.

Scientists at TRIUMF also test computer hardware and superconductors, which are used for technology development. In research on outer space, TRIUMF researchers are discovering how and why large stars explode as supernovae.

What is a “cyclotron”?

 A cyclotron is a special type of particle accelerator that accelerates protons as they follow a spiral path through it. The TRIUMF cyclotron accelerates particles inside an air-free chamber between the poles of an electromagnet whose magnetic field guides the particles in an expanding spiral path. The particles are accelerated by 'kicks' of electric voltage every half turn. When the beam reaches the outside edge of the tank, it is bent into pipes called beam lines, which lead to experimental halls. The cyclotron at TRIUMF, the largest in the world, accelerates 1000 trillion particles per second to speeds of 224,000 km/s, making TRIUMF's proton beam one of the most intense in the world.

I've heard TRIUMF scientists work with “beams.” What is a beam?

TRIUMF beams are actually streams of particles moving at high speed. An atom is composed of smaller component particles such as the proton and the electron. Scientists accelerate these sub-atomic particles, so they move very fast; the result is called a beam of particles. The beams are not dangerous to scientists working with experiments because they are contained within specialized pipes and constantly monitored.

How many people work at TRIUMF?

There are about 340 staff employed at TRIUMF; in addition, about 150 other visitors, students, and researchers work at TRIUMF each day. Every year there are about 500 scientific visitors who come to TRIUMF for short periods of time to conduct experiments or research during the year.

When was TRIUMF built?

TRIUMF was founded in 1968 and construction got underway in 1969. In 2009, TRIUMF celebrated the 40th anniversary of the original dedication ceremony.

How big is the TRIUMF site?

The TRIUMF site is 5.08 hectares (12.55 acres).

Is TRIUMF planning to expand?

TRIUMF is currently planning to build another beam line, which is a pipe that contains a stream of ions that come from the cyclotron. TRIUMF has four beam lines that are constantly used and would like to build another beam line to meet the needs of beam-users and provide more “beam time” for the scientists.

Why is there limited cell phone reception at TRIUMF?

Sometimes cell phones do not have reception at TRIUMF because the TRIUMF site is located beyond the limits of most cell phone service areas. Many parts of Pacific Spirit Park, which is located beside TRIUMF, also do not have clear cell phone reception.

About TRIUMF's Research Programs

What type of research is conducted at TRIUMF?

Over the past decade, TRIUMF’s programs in scientific research, education, and commercialization have enjoyed considerable success—and many have had substantial impact.  Ultimately, these programs are based on pure research in subatomic physics and exploit the opportunities provided by TRIUMF’s core facilities and its synergy with the university research community. TRIUMF actively applies the expertise developed for subatomic physics to other areas of research, to the recruitment and training of the next generation of technological leaders, and to the generation of entrepreneurial opportunities.  Areas for expansion beyond subatomic physics have been carefully chosen so that TRIUMF’s unique capabilities can help resolve additional important science questions and provide health and economic advantages to Canadians.  Thus, the core program of nuclear, particle, and accelerator physics has expanded to cover key niche areas in life sciences and molecular and materials science.  Consequently the TRIUMF research program has become interdisciplinary with cross-fertilization among different areas of the program.

According to its mission statement, TRIUMF's research program pursues the most compelling questions in:

What are some of TRIUMF's top scientific accomplishments?

One way to measure scientific impact is by frequency of citations of a scientific paper by subsequent papers.  As measured by publication citations measured from the ISI Web of Knowledge of database in early 2009, the top 10 TRIUMF scientific publications are:

  1. "The bonn meson-exchange model for the nucleon nucleon-interaction," Machleidt, R; Holinde, K; Elster, C;  (1987). Citations: 1,709
  2. "GEANT4--a simulation toolkit," Agostinelli, S; Allison, J; Amako, K, et al., Nucl. Instr. Methods A 506: 250-303 (2003). Citations: 1,357
  3. "Direct evidence for neutrino flavor transformation from neutral-current interactions in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory," Ahmad, QR; Allen, RC; Andersen, TC, et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 89:1 (2002). Citations: 1,064
  4. "Measurement of the rate of nu(e)+d -> p+p+e(-) interactions produced by B-8 solar neutrinos at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory," Ahmad, QR; Allen, RC; Andersen, TC, et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 87:1 (2001). Citations: 976
  5. "Universal correlations between TC and NS/M-star (carrier density over effective mass) in high-TC cuprate superconductors," Uemura, YJ; Luke, GM; Sternlieb, BJ, et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 62:19, 2317-2320 (1989). Citations: 702
  6. "Measurement of day and night neutrino energy spectra at SNO and constraints on neutrino mixing parameters," Ahmad, QR; Allen, RC; Andersen, TC, et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. 89:1, 011302 (2002). Citations: 696
  7. "The BABAR detector," Aubert, B; Bazan, A; Boucham, A, et al., Nucl. Instr. Methods A 479: 1-116 (2002). Citations: 619
  8. "Pionic corrections to the MIT bag model - The (3,3) resonance," Theberge, S; Thomas, AW; Miller, GA; Phys. Rev. D 22:11, 2838-2852  (1980). Citations: 466
  9. "Basic similarities among cuprate, bismuthate, organic, chevrel-phase, and heavy-fermion superconductors shown by penetration-depth measurements," Uemura, YJ; Le, LP; Luke, GM, et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 66:20, 2665-2668 (1991). Citations: 457
  10. "Intensity interferometry in subatomic physics," Boal, DH; Gelbke, CK; Jennings, BK, Rev. Modern Physics 62:3, 553-602 (1990). Citations: 429

TRIUMF and the Environment

Does TRIUMF recycle?

Yes. TRIUMF has a recycling program in place. Recycling for paper, plastic, and aluminum is available for all TRIUMF staff. Additionally, TRIUMF recycles all kinds of metal used in building experiments, such as aluminum, copper, and steel.

How do TRIUMF staff help the environment?

Some staff participate in personally organized carpools or are a part of B.C.'s Jack Bell Ride-Share program. Many TRIUMF staff also take the bus or bike through Pacific Spirit Park to go to work.

Does TRIUMF affect the environment or have an impact on Pacific Spirit Regional Park?

Independently reviewed reports show air and water quality remain consistent with environmental conditions recorded before the facility opened. Samples of storm-sewer water and vegetation are taken regularly at eight key locations around the site and confirm no effects on groundwater or surface water quality.

What is radioactivity?

Radioactivity is the spontaneous decay of an atom's core (the nucleus).  When the nucleus decays, it emits particles or waves of energy.  The rate of this decay is measured in Becquerels (Bq), which correspond to one disintegration per second.

Does radiation occur naturally in the environment?

Yes. Radiation occurs naturally. For example, the sun and stars produce many cosmic rays that stream down to earth every second. Also, the human body has naturally-occurring radioactivity inside. A typical adult will have about 30 micrograms of potassium-40 in their body – a radioactive type of element.

Very small amounts of radiation are used by scientists in the laboratory at TRIUMF.

Please visit Health Canada's page on radiation for more information.

Is there radioactivity at TRIUMF?

Radioactivity at TRIUMF is principally located in the sealed cyclotron. The cyclotron is located three stories underground and is shielded by three staggered layers of 100-ton concrete blocks, 4.5 meters thick.

What happens to radioactive material at TRIUMF after it's used?

The small quantities of radioactive by-products produced by experiments are carefully stored for a lengthy period of time in special containers. This allows the radioactive levels to decay, meaning it becomes nonreactive. Materials that are considered 'contaminated' are carefully sealed and shipped off site to a regulated storage facility out-of-province.

Are hazardous materials used at TRIUMF?

Hazardous materials are goods that may be flammable, explosive, toxic, corrosive, or radioactive. One may recognize the flammable symbol on a hairspray can at home, or the toxic symbol on household cleaning solutions. TRIUMF uses limited quantities of hazardous materials such as industrial chemicals and small amounts of radioactive material. All these materials are rigorously controlled and only exist in small quantities.

I'm a neighbour living near TRIUMF. Does TRIUMF's work pose any risk to my health?

No, there is no danger in living near TRIUMF. In Vancouver, residents receive only 1.4 mili-Sieverts of naturally-occuring radiation annually (a very, very small amount). The average Canadian receives 2 to 4 mili-Sieverts per year, from sources such as dental x-rays, and natural cosmic background radiation. In comparison, the work conducted at TRIUMF contributes less than 0.01 mili-Sieverts per year to a resident living beside TRIUMF. Thus, the effect on residents of Vancouver is next to nil.

Who regulates TRIUMF activities?

TRIUMF is regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). TRIUMF is classified as a Class 1B facility. Please visit the CNSC website for more information.

Public Outreach at TRIUMF

Can the public visit TRIUMF?

Yes. Tours and public lecture series are offered at TRIUMF. Click here for tour information.

Public lectures are held at TRIUMF on select Saturday mornings during the school year. Information and registration for this free event can be found at http://www.triumf.info/public/students/lectures.php.

Are there any videos about TRIUMF?

Yes. TRIUMF has four movies introducing the main research programs at TRIUMF and a series of six physics lesson for high-school students and curious members of the public.


How is TRIUMF active in the community?

TRIUMF has organized and hosted events for Vancouver community members to participate in, such as the public lecture series or events for National Science and Technology Week. TRIUMF also participated in local events such as the University of British Columbia's Barn Raising and sponsored a movie at the Vancouver International Film Festival.


I still have some questions! How can I find out more about TRIUMF?

Please contact communications@triumf.ca if you have any further questions about TRIUMF.