The Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung mbH (GSI), or Association for Heavy Ion Research, is a research facility where scientific researchers work with heavy ions for a wide range of experiments to explore the structure of matter. GSI is a particle accelerator facility where ions are accelerated up to 90% the speed of light.
Of the accomplishments at GSI, atoms of atomic number 107 through 112 were discovered at GSI: Bohrium, Hassium, Meitnerium, Darmstadtium, Roentgenium and Ununbium. Another major accomplishment is the use of heavy ions to treat cancer.
In the United States, ionic cancer treatment is primarily done by bombarding protons at a patient’s tumor. The heavy ion accelerator, as the name suggests, accelerates muclei of heavier elements, and for cancer treatment, carbon. These carbon nuclei are particularly adept at destroying tissue, yet are able to destroy tissue at a point. The diagram below shows the higher energy released from carbon ions.
When carbon atoms penetrate the patient’s skull, they pass through the brain tissue, but when they reach a specified depth, they radiate the tissue. This means that the bone, tissue, and everything between the environment and the patient’s tumor, is virtually untouched, but the tumor is destroyed. This specialized radiation beam is created in the huge GSI complex.
Although the carbon nuclei treatment has obvious advantages, including damaging less good tissue and destroying tumors more effectively than using a proton beam, the technique is not used in the US. A problem is that creating a heavy ion beam is more diffucult than creating a proton beam and the only current place for treatment is at GSI, near Darmstadt, Germany. Patients often bike to their daily painless radiation treatment that lasts normally a bit less than a month.
Currently a smaller heavy ion beam still capable of penetrating any depth within a human body is being built in Frankfurt, Germany as a sole medical facility. Other centers are planned through-out Europe to precision treat cancerous tumors.
European funding for public facilities and research project has been surging in recent years. This is particularly evident in higher education, where Germany has funded a total 1.9 billion Euros known as the “excellence initiative” where young scientists and PhD students receive one million Euros each at certain Universities.
The above photos (click to enlarge) from left to right: (1) The control room at GSI oversees the UNILAC linear accelerator and synchrotron. (2) The yellow section is the acceleration phase of the synchrotron where millions of volts accelerate ions. (3) The red section is the steering phase where the ions are precisely turned using very strong magnetic fields produced by the huge wire coils. (4) A research sensor array for detecting scattered ions and atoms.