What happens to materials when they are subjected to high levels of radiation? How do superconducting magnets behave when they encounter the high-intensity proton beams at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)? How much damage can radiation do to a device? HiRadMat, the radiation testing facility at CERN, helps experimenters answer these questions and more.

Radiation affects the mechanical properties of solid materials often causing significant damage. Metal objects, for example, become harder and more brittle, raising the risk of operation problems and malfunctions. As such, materials and devices often used under harsh radiation conditions —such as at nuclear reactors or high-energy physics experiments— must be tested in a safe and controlled environment.

HiRadMat, an acronym for High Radiation to Materials, provides exactly this environment to researchers. At the facility, they can expose different materials to high-intensity pulsed proton and ion beams to calculate the damage limits of detectors and electronics of the LHC, as well as evaluate different options for radioactive targets and measure the performance of radiation resistant devices. Since its creation in 2010, HiRadMat has remained a unique facility of high demand, providing a wide range of high radiation testing possibilities.

In the spirit of international collaboration and open exchange of ideas, HiRadMat is available to experimenters from around the globe for a range of scientific purposes. It is part of the ARIES project, which aims to develop European particle accelerator infrastructures and also provides support for researchers to travel to and use the facility.

An experimental set-up in HiRadMat Tunnel (Image: CERN)

HiRadMat uses a proton beam extracted directly from the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) at 440 GeV, providing a maximum pulsed energy of 3.4 MJ, a comparable extraction to that of the LHC beam. The facility is situated in the West Area and takes beam extracted directly from the TI2 injection line to the LHC [1,2].  It provides pulsed proton beams from 1 bunch per pulse to 288 bunches per pulse, at a maximum energy of 1.2x1011 protons per bunch (equivalent ion beams can also be provided).

The facility contains three experimental tables. A Beam Television (BTV) has been installed upstream of experimental positions and provides all users with reliable, consistent beam spot information, i.e. beam position, beam stability and beam spot size.  Different optics are available depending on the positioning of the experiments, but a general 1σ r.m.s. beam radius of 0.5 – 2 mm is offered, with others available upon request.  Further details on the beam operation of HiRadMat can be found in the literature by Fabich et al. [3]

Since HiRadMat took its first proton beam in 2012, it has continued to provide irradiation testing to a variety of projects, including studies into novel materials for collimators, beam monitors and targets. It has continued to develop as a facility, providing improved logistics to experiments and related electronics equipment to ensure smooth operation throughout all projects. HiRadMat also offers an additional facility providing improved shielding for electronics required for the experiments, a surface laboratory and control centre.

If HiRadMat sounds like the perfect facility to test your materials, devices and products, please contact the HiRadMat team directly.


[1]  I. Efthymiopoulos et al. “HiRadMat:  A New Irradiation Facility for Material Testing at CERN”, Proceedings IPAC, 2011: 1665-1667.

[2]  C. Hessler et al. “Beam Line Design for the CERN HiRadMat Test Facility”, Proceedings PAC, 2009: 3796-3798.

[3]  Fabich et al. “First Year of Operations in the HiRadMat Irradiation Facility at CERN”, Proceedings IPAC, 2013: 3415-3417.