The use of neutrons as research tools gives scientists unprecedented insight into the structure and properties of materials important in biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering. ORNL’s long history of neutron science began in the 1940s with the pioneering neutron scattering studies of Ernest Wollan and Clifford Shull. Shull was co-recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physics for this groundbreaking work. Today, the laboratory is home to two of the most powerful neutron science facilities in the world—the Spallation Neutron Source and the High Flux Isotope Reactor. The SNS produces the world’s most intense pulsed neutron beams, and HFIR creates steady-state neutron streams as bright as any on Earth.
By applying neutron scattering to materials research, scientists obtain remarkable insights that contribute to new technologies to address our energy needs, such as superconducting power cables that dramatically reduce power-transmission losses and prevent outages; liquid transportation fuels produced from biomass; and magnetic refrigerators that use half the energy of conventional appliances. Developing the advanced materials that support these technologies depends on scientists’ ability to manipulate the properties of materials at the atomic level, and neutron science is a key to these efforts.
Neutron scattering shows directly where atoms are and what they are doing. It allows researchers to see in real time how the structure of a material shifts with changes in temperature, pressure, and magnetic or electronic fields. It also traces the atomic motions and electron states that give materials properties such as magnetism or the ability to conduct electricity—essential information in the pursuit of energy savings. Managing the world’s appetite for energy will require producing more power, more sustainably, and using it more frugally. Neutron scattering supports the creation of new materials for those purposes.
ORNL’s world-leading neutron research facilities provide the international scientific community with unmatched capabilities for understanding the structure and properties of materials, biological systems, and the fundamental physics of the neutron—all while bringing outstanding scientists, students, and teachers together with the laboratory’s top researchers.
High-pressure studies of rare earth material could lead to lighter, cheaper magnets
November 25, 2013 — Sometimes you have to apply a little pressure to get magnetic materials to reveal their secrets.
New Wigner Fellow Travis Williams Welcomed to Neutron Sciences Directorate
November 20, 2013 — As part of the prestigious Wigner Fellowship program for recent doctoral degree recipients, Travis Williams is joining the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Neutron Sciences Directorate as a staff associate. Each year the program selects a few exceptional scientists and engineers who are no more than 3 years out of a doctoral program and have proven to be talented, motivated researchers.
SNS Lobby Display wins Platinum MarCom Award
November 07, 2013 — The Spallation Neutron Source Lobby Display has won a Platinum Award in the Ads/Trade Show Exhibit category of the 2013 MarCom Awards.
Recent Research Highlights
Neutron Imaging Explored as Complementary Technique for Improving Cancer Detection
August 05, 2013 — Today’s range of techniques for detection of breast and other cancers include mammography, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, positron emission tomography (PET), and optical imaging. Each technology has advantages and disadvantages, with limitations either in spatial resolution or sensitivity.
Neutron Imaging Reveals Lithium Distribution in Lithium-Air Electrodes
January 01, 2013 — Using neutron-computed tomography, researchers at the CG-1D neutron imaging instrument at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) have successfully mapped the three-dimensional spatial distribution of lithium products in electrochemically discharged lithium-air cathodes.