New way to study life in detail
By Jia Hepeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-08-02 06:17

A massive project launched by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) seeks to allow scientists across the world to better observe the basic components of material and life.

With an investment of up to 1.2 billion yuan (US$140 million), the Beijing Spallation Neutron Source (BSNS) accelerator complex will be completed in 2011, according to Zhang Jie, a physicist and director of the Bureau of Basic Research at CAS.

The accelerator will produce a strong pulsed neutron beam, with which scientists could target objects to better observe their structure and microscopic movements.

The technology can be widely used to improve the structure of high-tech material, such as credit cards, compact discs and agricultural pesticides.

"Unlike an electronic accelerator we are familiar with, a spallation neutron source is a public tool, with which scientists in different disciplines can observe a wide range of objects such as the structure of proteins," Zhang explained.

Zhang's remark was made Monday on the sidelines of a workshop on the application of spallation neutron sources, held in Beijing between Monday and today.

Zhang said BSNS is among nine "big science" projects launched or to be launched by the government in the coming decade, with a total investment of 6 billion yuan (US$750 million). All of them are designed to offer public tools for basic science researches.

Among the nine projects, another major public facility used to observe material structure is the Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility, set to be completed in 2009 with an investment of 1.2 billion yuan (US$140 million).

Synchrotron radiation technology can be applied to trace the movement of electrons, while the spallation neutron source is particularly sensitive to atomic nuclei. This makes synchrotron radiation technology more suitable for heavy elements, such as metal atoms, while the spallation neutron source can be used to trace lighter atoms like hydrogen and carbon.

China's fast development in science and economy has created big demands on the spallation neutron source, according to Jinkui Zhao, a senior scientist at the world's largest such facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, United States.

The facility has been used to observe the structural change of gasoline in the operated engines, so that a more energy-efficient way can be developed.

"I believe the BSNS will be a major boost to China's energy research and life science studies," Zhao told China Daily.

Zhang said that when it is finished, BSNS will be opened to scientists across the world, and time will be equally distributed among scientists who need to use it.

"That's why we have repeatedly convened meetings of potential users to discuss BSNS's future applications," Zhang said.

(China Daily 08/02/2006 page2)