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In the country of talkative atoms


All matter, and therefore all living beings, are made of atoms. Their size is infinitesimal (approximately ten million times smaller than a millimeter) and it was often thought in the past that there was nothing smaller in nature.
In the 20th century, with an accelerating succession of experiments, researchers made many new discoveries. They showed that an atom, whatever its type, contains many other things: it is made of electrons orbiting a nucleus, which is 10,000 times smaller than the overall size of the atom. The nucleus itself is made of neutrons and protons, which represent more than 99% of the mass of an atom.


               Example : To understand how small an atom is, just imagine that the thickness of a single hair represents a stack of several million atoms.
If an atom were represented by a 200 ft2 room, the nucleus would be equivalent to a pinhead placed at the center of the room.


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The atom's nucleus still raises many questions for scientists. A real trip into the unknown, this so-called "fundamental research" carried out at GANIL since its creation in 1976, has contributed to advances in our current theoretical understanding of the nucleus.

GANIL is also used for multidisciplinary research in fields as diverse as:

  • Atomic physics
  • Condensed matter physics
  • Chemistry under irradiation
  • Radiobiology ...

These topics are paving the way to the creation of broad fields of application.

This is the role played by the CIRIL laboratory (Multidisciplinary Center for Ions-Laser Research) installed near the GANIL. The management of radioactive waste, and the aging of nuclear power plants are studied in this laboratory. Other studied topics include the resistance to cosmic rays of electronic components onboard satellites, as well as the principles of radiotherapy using heavy particles.

Moreover, thanks to GANIL and its industrial applications service, it has been possible to create specialized companies in such diverse areas as the production of micro-porous membranes (filters), the development of new electronic modules, and the marketing of ion sources.
The GANIL contributed towards the creation of a high-tech startup incubator, known as "Normandie Incubation".


But how do they manage to do this?

To study an atom's nucleus, it is necessary to perturb the atom or even break it apart, by bombarding it with other nuclei projected at very high velocities. This is the key function of GANIL.

On the starting line: atom nuclei, known as "projectiles".
On the finish line, located in GANIL's laboratories: stationary "target" nuclei.

The rule of the game is to create a beam of projectile nuclei, launched at a velocity of 100,000 kilometers per second (a third the speed of light), which then impinge on the target nuclei. The effects of such a bombardment are recorded by sensors and then studied in detail by scientists.

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