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TRIUMF | Vancouver, BC | Canada

View Blog | Read Bio

Identity crisis — or opportunity?

–by T. “Isaac” Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning & Communications

On behalf of Canada and on behalf of particle and nuclear physics scientists all across the land, welcome to the new Quantum Diaries! Having a presence here as an institution is a new experience for TRIUMF and we’re thrilled to be here.

So what is TRIUMF? Well let’s give you an inside peek at a debate that has been raging for years.

TRIUMF has been traditionally called “Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics.” We have 5+ accelerators on site, some of which are cyclotrons, some of which are linear accelerators; and they accelerate muons, protons, heavy ions or what we call rare isotopes. We’re even building a new accelerator that will accelerate electrons and produce beams of photons. (TRIUMF’s main accelerator, the 500 MeV cyclotron, was recently designated as the 11th IEEE Engineering Milestone in Canada.)

We use the beams from accelerators to manufacture isotopes for science and medicine. For science, we use these exotic isotopes to examine the fundamentals that govern what holds a nucleus together or used to examine the sequence of reactions in a supernova that create the explosion as well as the gold and copper that now exist on planet Earth. For medicine, we produce isotopes which are combined with delivered around the world to hospitals and clinics to be combined with biological molecules and injected into patients for PET and SPECT medical-imaging scans in the research, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer and neurological diseases. We even use beams of protons to treat—and often cure—certain types of eye cancer. We also use the beam of protons to make muons which are used to study molecular structure, the rate of certain chemical reactions, materials science and structure, and magnetic phenomena.

But wait, I said combine isotopes with biological molecules…that’s chemistry! And then I said that we use muons from the accelerators to study…chemistry and even materials science! So TRIUMF’s “nuclear and particle physics” activities actually provide basic research tools for chemistry and a number of other fields. And we work closely with medical doctors and researchers to develop new diagnostics and treatments for disease.

Which means we should call TRIUMF — “Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics and chemistry and medicine and materials science.” Which is a mouthful! And since 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry as designated by the United Nations…shouldn’t we especially acknowledge the connections to that important discipline?

This debate is not unique to TRIUMF. Every major particle-physics laboratory in the world is involved in a broad array of science, technology, and innovation activities. It “goes with the territory” as they say. Particle physicists helped drive the field of accelerator science and technology as well as detector science and technology and as science gets more interconnected, everything is inextricably linked.

At the moment, we’re keeping TRIUMF as “Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics” since that’s what people know us as. What we should really call it, though, is “Canada’s national laboratory which uses accelerators to drive research and development in many fields.”

If you have suggestions, please let us know!!

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