Neutrons in the atmosphere can collide with microchips and upset microelectronic devices. These episodes also affect computers on the ground, but the problem is 300 times greater at high altitude.

A silicon microchip in an aircraft may be struck by a neutron every few seconds. When a neutron hits silicon, the resulting reaction causes an electrical charge shower that can interfere with electronic equipment.

Problems that occur at altitude in the aerospace and avionic industries are also emerging in ground based electronic systems. Smaller electronic circuitry is more vulnerable to neutron buffeting, so the problem is compounded by the drive for smaller and more powerful systems and devices.

Access to neutron facilities replicating the cosmic neutron spectrum, particularly in Europe, to test the quality and susceptibility of components under accelerated conditions has become increasingly important to the wider electronics industry.

Recognising this need, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (UK) and the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (Italy) have joined together to design and build a new neutron testing instrument at ISIS called Chipir [Frost et al., IRPS, April 2009 Montreal].

ISIS is one of the only facilities in the world capable of producing enough very high energy neutrons to perform such accelerated testing. Chipir will result in the creation of the world's best screening facility.

The new instrument will enable manufacturers to test their electronic components and manage the effects of cosmic radiation and is expected to be operational by 2012.