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ISIS Neutron and Muon Source

ISIS Neutron and Muon Source is a world-leading centre for research in the physical and life sciences at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford in the United Kingdom. Our suite of neutron and muon instruments gives unique insights into the properties of materials on the atomic scale.

We support a national and international community of more than 2000 scientists for research into subjects ranging from clean energy and the environment, pharmaceuticals and health care, through to nanotechnology and materials engineering, catalysis and polymers, and on to fundamental studies of materials.

Neutrons tell us where atoms are and how they are moving. By studying how materials work at the atomic level, we can better understand their every-day properties – and so make new materials tailor-made for particular uses. ISIS also produces muons for use in a similar way, providing additional information on how materials work at the atomic scale.

From the original vision over 30 years ago, ISIS Neutron and Muon Source has become one of the UK’s major scientific achievements. ISIS has changed the way the world does neutron scattering research. In particular, ISIS is an accelerator-based neutron source. Neutrons are produced when an energetic proton beam from the ISIS synchrotron accelerator hits a heavy metal target – a process called ‘spallation’. New neutron sources in other countries are based on the ISIS accelerator method of neutron production.

Recent research has impacted on:

  • health - developing bio-compatible materials including a new method for cleft palate treatment and plastic surgery; understanding the molecular structure of lung surfactant in premature babies, or the behaviour of enzymes in the digestive tract; and developing new drugs and methods for targeted drug delivery in the body
  • environment - identifying solutions for waste water treatment, such as determining the fate of nanoparticles or characterizing the breakdown of environmental contamination by natural enzymes; contributing to our understanding of global warming; and giving insight into the geological processes of the Earth and other planets
  • energy - discovering new materials for hydrogen storage and clean energy
  • technology - improving the performance of mobile phone components; uncovering stresses and microscopic cracking in aircraft wings and power station heat exchangers
  • culture - analysing archaeological, historical and art objects non-destructively

ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, which is located at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, supports a very large and diverse national and international community of more than 2,000 scientists.

The facility is strongly placed to address many of the major scientific challenges of the 21st century whilst at the same time building a strong foundation of knowledge for the future.

The neutron and muon beams produced at ISIS are used in research areas ranging from clean energy and the environment to pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology and IT.

ISIS attracts international investment and creates very successful partnerships with local science, engineering and technology businesses.

Key facts

  • ISIS Neutron and Muon Source has been operational for more than 30 years. It has recently doubled in size through a government-funded £145 million investment to increase scientific capability and add capacity.

  • ISIS now publishes nearly 500 research papers every year - and the facility has published around 12,000 papers during its lifetime - making it one of the most productive facilities of its type in the world.

  • The heart of ISIS is a proton accelerator that produces intense pulses of protons 50 times per second. Muons are produced when the proton beam passes through a carbon target. The protons then go on to collide with a tungsten target and produce neutron pulses.

  • The ISIS second target station construction project (Phase I) was completed in 2009, on time and to budget. It will enable the ISIS science programme to expand in the key research areas of soft matter, advanced materials and bio-science.

  • 10 instruments are now online in the second target station with the final instrument, Zoom, preparing to enter the user programme. Target Station 2 has capacity for a total of 18 neutron instruments. The two target stations house more than 30 different neutron and muon instruments.

  • The new instruments in target station 2 have extended the range of science at ISIS Neutron and Muon Source even further. For example, the instrument ChipIr offers a unique facility for the UK electronics industry to ensure that devices can withstand the effects of cosmic radiation - keeping aircraft safe and ensuring that computer systems for cars, communications and medical equipment operate reliably. Other instruments will offer new capability for pharmacy and healthcare, bio-materials, power generation, civil engineering and food science.


ISIS uses the technique of neutron scattering to study materials at the atomic level. Neutrons are able to tell us where atoms are and how they are moving.

By studying how materials work at the atomic-level, we can better understand their every-day properties – and so make new materials tailor-made for specific applications.

ISIS also uses muons in a similar way, providing additional information on atomic-level properties. Many researchers who use neutrons or muons at ISIS also use x-rays as well to provide complementary information.


Below are some downloadable infographics which illustrate some aspects of the work ISIS undertakes. Simply select the image and a full size version will be displayed which can be saved for later use.





Detailed information on how ISIS works and what it does can be found on the ISIS website. This also contains information on how to apply for beamtime at ISIS.


ISIS has been performing experiments with neutrons since 1984. The 27 neutron and muon instruments on its first target station have produced between them over 10,000 scientific publications.

More recently, a new neutron target station has been constructed which produced first neutrons in 2008.

Last updated: 27 June 2019


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