Students Learn to Use Neutrons and X-rays at Oak Ridge and Argonne


NXS 2014 students participated in experiments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory during the week of June 22 at HFIR and SNS.NXS 2014 students participated in experiments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory during the week of June 22 at HFIR and SNS. (hi-res image)

The 16th National School on Neutron and X-ray Scattering, or NXS 2014, at Argonne and Oak Ridge National Laboratories came to an end on June 27. A whirlwind 14-day experience jointly conducted by Oak Ridge and Argonne, NXS immerses graduate students in national user facilities to learn in a hands-on environment how to use neutrons and X-rays in their research.

“It targets graduate students from all across the country in physical sciences to study hands-on and theory of neutron and X-ray scattering at large national facilities,” said Bryan Chakoumakos instrument scientist from ORNL and a co-director for the school. “The hands-on part is to familiarize themselves with the big facilities – how to access them, how to interact with the instrument scientists.”

The students spent a week at ANL doing synchrotron X-ray studies and demonstration experiments on those instruments. They then came to ORNL to spend another week doing neutron scattering experiments at both the High Flux Isotope Reactor and the Spallation Neutron Source. While at ORNL, the students conducted demonstration exercises using 18 neutron instruments (seven at HFIR and 11 at SNS) and attended 16 lectures presented by researchers from academia, industry and national laboratories.

“It’s been really neat to see how different scientists are using neutrons and X-rays to probe their different scientific questions. It’s fun to see the breadth of science that goes on in these facilities,” said Cherie Achilles, a geoscience graduate student from Indiana University.

Another NXS student, Viktor Cybulskis from Purdue University, is a chemical engineering graduate student and has done work in the past at ANL with X-ray scattering, but is new to neutron scattering.

“It’s a field that I knew nothing about prior to coming here,” said Viktor. “In just the couple of experiments I’ve been able to participate in at the different beam lines here ­– between SNS and HFIR – I’ve already seen a couple of potential applications that could be useful for our research, specifically for catalysts and clean fuel applications.”

Out of 201 applicants, 66 students were selected to participate in the two-week school. This level of competition led to a class of the “best and brightest from across the U.S. and Canada,” explained Chakoumakos.

“There’s no question that having very bright students, they come up with some really great ideas on their own,” said Chakoumakos.  “All of them are engaged in their own active research programs, so they see benefit in doing these experiments and learning this theory and applying both to their own research. They also are very inquisitive and suggest things to our own instrument scientists that sometimes they haven’t even thought of.”

The ultimate goal of NXS is to expose students to the user facilities and encourage them to become regular users of these facilities.

“When you consider that we are national user facilities, big user facilities require users. We want to grow our user community and have a diverse user community,” said Chakoumakos.

The school was supported by efforts from staff across ORNL and ANL, from science to logistics. NXS is funded by the Department of Energy Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences.

 -  Katie Bethea,  865.576.8039,  June 27, 2014

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