South Korea has embarked on an ambitious billion-dollar project to develop a heavy ion accelerator, thus allowing the country to join the international race to discover stable superheavy elements.

Image: Institute for Basic Science

South Korea is an economic powerhouse thanks to its support of applied research that has made companies like Samsung and LG household names. But a sluggish economy of late has convinced the government that a vibrant fundamental research effort is critical to future growth. With that in mind, the nation is embarking on its most ambitious basic science project ever: the US$1 billion RAON heavy ion accelerator in the city of Daejeon, one hour south of Seoul by high speed train.

When it is completed around 2020, the RAON accelerator, named after a Korean word meaning joyful, will be the jewel of South Korea’s young Institute for Basic Science. As part of the Institute’s Rare Isotope Science Project, RAON will allow Korean researchers to probe how elements heavier than iron are forged in supernovae. South Korea will thus join the international race to discover stable superheavy elements.

“The science will be broad and wide,” says physicist Sun Kee Kim, director of the Rare Isotope Science Project.

The RAON accelerator will also be used for biomedical applications, including the development of sharper diagnostic imaging, and for heavy ion therapy using carbon and other isotopes in cancer treatments that cause less collateral damage to a patient’s DNA.

Even before RAON’s science program kicks into gear, Korean physicists and engineers will learn new skills by fabricating the superconducting cavities and other advanced materials for the 18.5 million electron volt accelerator.

“We want to develop our own capacity to build this machine,” says Kim, whose 90-person team has wrapped up most of the design work and is now moving to build a prototype.

Before being appointed project director in December 2011, Kim was a leader of South Korea’s premier dark matter experiment and enjoyed the exhilarating hunt for the elusive cosmic quarry. Kim says it was well worth moving on to bring an accelerator to life.



For further information contact:

Ga-young Koo

Rare Isotope Science Project
Institute for Basic Science
Republic of Korea