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Visiting what will be the most powerful neutron source in the world

by Ellie Dobson

It’s not everyday you’re invited to tour one of the world’s newest and most exciting Big Science facilities, especially while it’s still being created. The European Spallation Source will be the world’s most powerful neutron source, which will enable the world’s scientists to understand more about the atomic structures and forces of different materials than has ever been possible. This knowledge will unlock the next generation of scientific breakthroughs in everything from medicine to food and energy.

Naturally, we jumped at the chance to don our wellies and hard hats and explore the construction site of one of the most exciting science facilities that will come online in the next few years. The sheer scale of everything we saw really gave us a sense of the magnitude of the facility, not just in terms of its significant physical presence on the outskirts of Lund in Sweden, but in terms of the impact it is already having in uniting 15 European nations as members, and in mobilising in-kind contributions from more worldwide collaborators than has ever been attempted in a European Big Science project. This building site represents more than a rather impressive construction project; it’s a reminder that science transcends borders.

Only yesterday I was talking to a contact at CERN about the SESAME facility that opened last year in the Middle East, bringing together scientists from Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey. Sometimes science really is bigger than politics. Back in the warmth of the ESS offices, our attention turned to the challenges of communicating the impact of a science facility that’s not even been built yet. We’re working closely with the instrument teams to bring to life some examples of the fascinating, important and frankly awesome experiments that will be taking place here once the ESS becomes operational.

This is my favourite part of the job – what a privilege to hear about cutting-edge research projects so advanced that they’re waiting in the wings for these new instruments to be built. We quiz those closest to it on every seemingly inaccessible detail, until we’re confident we can translate them into simple stories that everyone can relate to and be excited by. No spoilers here though, I’m afraid! You can follow the ESS here. If you have any questions about this blog please email ellie.dobson@aprilsixproof.com