ISOLDE: 50 years of cutting-edge science benefitting society

The travelling nature of the multiple experiments at the facility, as well as a high turnover of research groups contributes to a constant state of flux in the ISOLDE experimental hall. (Image: Andrew Hara/CERN)

Last Monday, 16 October 2017, exactly 50 years to the day after the first radioactive beam was produced at ISOLDE in 1967, we celebrated 50 years of physics at the facility.

ISOLDE is the longest-running experimental facility at CERN. What started as a small nuclear physics experiment, has now grown over half a century into a facility that provides beam for over 50 experiments, and 500 users. (Read: Meet ISOLDE: Where did it all begin?).

In this period, 113 isotopes have been discovered for the first time at ISOLDE, granting CERN fifth place worldwide on the Top 25 Labs for Nuclide Discovery list. With the long-awaited HIE-ISOLDE upgrade (Read: Future physics with HIE-ISOLDE), due to be completed next year, the scientists at ISOLDE will have the chance to study ever more exotic nuclei, be able to answer more of our questions about our universe and perhaps discover even more isotopes.

But ISOLDE does much more than make discoveries. The facility is helping to make computers faster with its research into solid state physics, and is currently contributing research on ways to treat cancer with radiation.

With the advent of CERN-MEDICIS (Read: What can ISOLDE do for cancer research?), a new facility attached to ISOLDE, which will start producing isotopes later this year, ISOLDE will have even more scope for helping make breakthroughs in medical research.

Radioactive isotopes are already widely used by the medical community, for imaging, diagnostics and radiation therapy. But many of the isotopes currently used are not perfect; they don’t target tumours closely enough, or a different type of radiation might be better suited for the imaging process. MEDICIS hopes to be able to produce isotopes that more accurately meet the needs of medical professionals.

To mark the anniversary, ISOLDE’s user community came together to publish a portrait of the Laboratory, with multiple open access reports looking at the different physics and applications currently studied at ISOLDE.

With fifty years of history and experience to back these new upgrades and clear benefits for our society ISOLDE is, and will remain, one of the best facilities in the world for nuclear physics research, and a jewel in CERN’s crown.

Find out more about ISOLDE by reading Meet ISOLDE and watching the short documentary series below (subtitles available in English and French).