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TRIUMF Backgrounder

TRIUMF is a world-class subatomic physics research laboratory located on the campus of the University of British Columbia, a twenty-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. TRIUMF is one of three subatomic research facilities in the world that specialize in producing extremely intense beams of particles. The heart of the facility is the world's biggest cyclotron, which is used to accelerate 1000 trillion particles each second!

A cyclotron is a special type of particle accelerator that accelerates particles 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.

Interesting facts about the TRIUMF Cyclotron:

  • Total magnet weight: 4000 Tons
  • Magnet diameter: 18m (59ft)
  • Magnetic field: Up to 5600 gauss (the Earth's magnetic field is about 0.5 gauss)
  • Current required by the magnets: 18,500 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/sec - 3/4th the speed of light. At this speed you could travel from the earth to the moon in two seconds.
  • Particles accelerated per second: 1000 trillion. TRIUMF has one of the most intense proton beams in the world.

The cyclotron produces beams of protons. By making these protons strike different kinds of targets, intense beams of neutrons, pions and muons (other elementary particles) can also be created, thus making possible many different kinds of experiments. More recently, the two ISAC (Isotope Separator and Accelerator) facilities have greatly expanded the possibilities for experimentation here at TRIUMF. You can learn more about ISAC here.

Because of these unusual beams of very high intensity, scientists from over twenty-five countries have come to TRIUMF since 1974 to run their experiments.

TRIUMF is also a centre for the practical application of this basic research:

  • It is the only centre in Canada using proton therapy to treat eye-cancers, and in the past was one of two centres in the world where pion beams were used on an experimental basis to destroy brain cancers in human patients.
  • TRIUMF researchers have built a Positron Emission Tomograph ("PET Scanner"), one of only three operating in Canada, used at the UBC hospital for specialized brain scans.
  • Scientists at TRIUMF are participating in developing new radiopharmaceuticals, microchips, computer software, original new designs for small cyclotrons, remote-controlled equipment, analysis of mineral samples, and many other high-tech innovations.

TRIUMF is operated by a consortium of Canadian universities, under a contribution from the National Research Council of Canada. TRIUMF was originally operated by three universities, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria and the acronym TRIUMF (TRI-University Meson Facility) stems from this. However, eight universities have since joined TRIUMF as member universities, and another seven Canadian universities are associate members.

Continue on to TRIUMF Milestones, or explore the rest of the site and learn about the activities going on at TRIUMF.

Undergraduate co-op students enjoying a special trip into the cyclotron vault.