Press release


SPIRAL: a new tool for nuclear physics

Paris, February 25, 2002


The new Spiral facility at the GANIL heavy ion accelerator in Caen was inaugurated today by Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg, French Minister of Research, René Garrec, President of the Lower Normandy Regional Council, Geneviève Berger, Director-General of the CNRS, and Pascal Colombani, Administrator General of the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). With Spiral, the GANIL, a jointly managed CEA-CNRS laboratory, now offers the scientific community an exceptional research tool that is unique in Europe for the study of atomic nuclear physics. The facility bolsters France's leading international position in this field.

The Spiral facility enables scientists to produce and accelerate light and moderately heavy nuclei, known as exotic nuclei, that do not exist on Earth. The study of these exotic nuclei, which represent approximately 90% of the nuclei in the cosmos, is thus essential in a number of areas in nuclear physics, as well as for astrophysics, especially in order to understand the formation of atomic nuclei in stars and supernovas. Since exotic nuclei represent a vast terra incognita today, this type of research will undoubtedly enable scientists to discover new nuclear phenomena.

Although physicists were already able to synthesize exotic nuclei in the laboratory, the Spiral facility will make it possible, for the first time, to produce large quantities of exotic nuclei, accelerate them, and observe their collisions with other nuclei, thereby providing information about their structure. Compared to other existing facilities, Spiral furthermore considerably extends both the range of exotic elements produced and the domain of accessible energy.

In September 2001, Spiral produced its first beam of an exotic nuclei: Neon 18. Through the observation of the collisions of this beam with a solid hydrogen target, Spiral revealed the structure of Sodium 19, a nucleus that cannot be found on Earth, in particular to understand certain thermonuclear reactions by which the elements in the Universe are created. Twelve laboratories collaborated to conduct this first experiment, including five European, one American, and six French laboratories.

Construction of the SPIRAL facility required a total investment of 18 million Euros. The CEA, the CNRS, and the Lower Normandy Regional Council contributed in equal amounts to fund the project.

Ganil, which first began operating in 1983 in Caen, France, was recognized as a European Large Facility in 1995. Some 250 physicists, engineers, and technicians work at Ganil, whose principal mission is to provide the scientific community with the means to conduct basic research in nuclear physics. The experiments carried out at Ganil have made an important contribution to increasing our understanding of nuclei. Considerable progress in this field is expected thanks to SPIRAL, a facility that is unique in Europe.

CEA Press contact :
Corinne Borel
Tel : +33 1 40 56 18 35
e-mail :

CNRS Press contact :
Stéphanie Bia
Tel : +33 1 44 96 43 09
e-mail :

Ministry of Research Press contact :
Muriel Elghouzzi
Tel : +33 1 55 55 83 28
e-mail :