Following a trip to see a student on placement at the University of Massachusetts last week, I'm now in Japan seeing another one (see photo), who is based at the RIBF (Radioactive Ion Beam Facility) in RIKEN, just outside Tokyo. Lily is working on a new storage ring which will be used for precision mass measurements of exotic isotopes that will hopefully shed light on the r–process which takes place in stellar explosions and is responsible for creating heavy nuclei that we find on Earth today. The intermediary nuclei in these nuclear reactions are very neutron rich and unstable, and the ones created in the stellar environments decayed very shortly after their creation. The facility at RIKEN is currently unique in the world in its ability to create such neutron-rich isotopes
I had a guided tour of the lab this morning by Lily and her supervisor. It's a lot cleaner and shinier than most other labs I have been to (with the possible exception of the NIF in the US), but I have been assured that it was just because the bits I was seeing were so new, and not quite in operation yet. The storage ring will be tested and ready for use during the year, so it should be a good year to be here on placement. Ironically, this nuclear physics lab cannot run for as much of the year as it used to due to the increase in electricity costs following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the damage at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Japan has shut down all its other nuclear reactors, which used to provide around 30% of the country's electricity.