Nuclear physics research at the University of Jyväskylä began in the cramped basement of an old laundry building, where Finland’s first particle accelerator was set up in December 1973. The scope of operation has grown since then, and nowadays the JYU Accelerator Laboratory is an important site for international research projects.

After the Jyväskylä College of Education became the University of Jyväskylä in 1965, it was natural to establish the Faculty of Mathematics and Science as well. Among the pioneers of its Department of Physics many were young researchers from Helsinki who were looking to focus on experimental nuclear physics research. For this they needed a proper tool – a particle accelerator. They managed to get funds for purchasing a small cyclotron, which was then placed in the Nisulankatu facility, in the basement of a former laundry and bakery. It was in these close quarters that students and young beginning researchers learned the basics of accelerator physics literally the hard way. Their own ideas for research instruments were boldly realised, and new scientific results started to emerge.

The planning and construction of the new accelerator laboratory in Ylistönrinne 25 years ago was accomplished by the staff’s own expertise, while young researchers dreaming of an academic career were without exception directed abroad to learn more, thus following in the footsteps of Uno Cygnaeus, considered by many to be the father of the Finnish public school system. Going abroad for further learning was relatively easy for them because they had already gained a sound basic knowledge in the old laundry basement.

Photo (left): The first mini-cyclotron of the Department of Physics, the 20-ton MC-20, being transferred to the basement lab of Nisulankatu in December 1973. In the photo are Jorma Hattula, Esko Liukkonen and Rauno Julin (in the background). Photo (right): The second cyclotron of the Department of Physics, the 300-ton K130, is ready for use in the Ylistönrinne laboratory in 1992. Arto Lassila and Jani Hyvönen are preparing an extraction experiment.

Ideal place for physics education

The selection of ion beams generated by the laboratory’s large cyclotron and smaller accelerators is currently on a world-class level. Unlike similarly sized laboratories abroad, the JYU Accelerator Laboratory is part of the Department of Physics, where students’ contribution to its operation is invaluable. Correspondingly, the laboratory provides the students with an educational site for diverse experimental research, where they can familiarise themselves with a great range of technologies and the management of international projects.

Recognised as an EU large scale facility

The JYU Accelerator Laboratory is the only real international research infrastructure in Finland, and it has the status to host EU researchers. Expertise with accelerators provides a basis for applied studies as well. The European Space Agency has accredited the accelerator laboratory for testing electronic components. Accelerator-generated beams of heavy particles are also used in making nanofilters for car manufacturers, for example. The Pelletron linear accelerator received from VTT in 2008 is used for the modification and analysis of material surfaces.

The international success of the JYU Accelerator Laboratory shows that a large-scale infrastructure for experimental research can be particularly effective in a university environment. In line with the same flexible operational philosophy, other high-quality research areas have emerged in the Department of Physics over the years, ranging from nanoscience to high energy physics.

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