European Molecular Biology Laboratory

An agreement was signed at CERN on 10 May setting up a new European laboratory for research in molecular biology. Located at Heidelberg in the Federal Republic of Germany, it will be a centre where top-class instrumentation for this type of research can be developed, but more importantly where top-class scientists from the various disciplines involved can work together.

CERN, the venue for many of the debates concerning the laboratory, has been used as a model for how a European research centre should work. The Member States exercise overall control via a council of delegates, as at CERN, while the running of the laboratory is assigned to a Director-General. The Director-General designate is J C Kendrew, project leader in the studies leading to the establishment of the laboratory. Professor Kendrew received the Nobel prize in 1962 [with M F Perutz] for research on protein structure.

Ten countries have signed the Agreement – Austria, Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Greece, Norway and Spain have participated in the discussions but are unable to join at present.

• Compiled from text on p139.

New tunnelling effect with electrons

During the design of the injector for electron-ring-accelerator research at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (LRL), it was realised that intense electron beams could cause considerable mechanical damage to materials in their path. While this was studiously avoided, the effect was investigated with a view to applications.

For many reasons, tunnels, underground storage areas, etc, are sometimes preferable to surface constructions. However, associated costs are often prohibitively high, and it was thought worthwhile looking into using electron beams as a cheaper or more appropriate way of cutting through rock.

The phenomenon known as "shock spalling" occurs when intense stresses are created in the rock by locally depositing energy in pulses lasting less than a microsecond. Comparatively modest amounts of energy can initiate stress waves exceeding the tensile strength of the rock, resulting in "mini-explosions" that break off flakes of rock. The waves can travel through the rock and cause further shock spalling at an interior surface.

• Compiled from text on pp149–150.

Both positive and negative

At the beginning of April, the 800 MeV Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility (LAMPF) simultaneously accelerated both positive and negative particles. This is possible in linear accelerators because the accelerating fields along the machine swing from one direction to the opposite direction at very high frequency. For tiny fractions of time, particular sections of the machine establish the conditions for accelerating positives, followed by tiny fractions of time with the conditions for accelerating negatives.

LAMPF is therefore provided with two ion sources – one of protons and one of negative hydrogen ions.

• Compiled from text on p154.

Compiler’s Note

Cavemen and other early diggers used thermal spalling to help excavate their caverns and tunnels by lighting fires against rock faces and dousing the hot rock with water. Latter-day underground engineers use explosives (not particle beams), and concomitant spalling from roofs and walls due to discontinuities in the rock is more often seen as a problem rather than part of the process.

At the sub-atomic level, shock spallation is employed to create intense bursts of neutrons by shattering heavy nuclei with pulsed high-energy particle beams. LAMPF morphed into LANSCE, the Los Alamos Neutron Science Centre, with the negative hydrogen-ion beam driving a spallation neutron source (SNS) while the positive beam is used primarily for isotope production. The world’s most powerful SNS, located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was jointly developed by six US labs, including the LRL and LANSCE, and serves an international community of researchers in physics, chemistry, materials science and biology.