New knowledge and novel materials and products will arise from cutting-edge research at DOE's Spallation Neutron Source at ORNL, according to Thom Mason, SNS Project leader.
The next frontier in materials science may be viewed on Chestnut Ridge in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The 80-acre wooded site is the location of the Department of Energy's Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) currently under construction at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The SNS, an accelerator-based source of pulsed neutrons for research, will offer ~10 times the peak neutron flux of its leading competitor. Combined with ORNL's steady-state High Flux Isotope Reactor, the SNS will make ORNL the world's leading center for neutron science.
The leader of the SNS project is Thom Mason, a condensed matter physicist who has used inelastic neutron scattering to study the magnetic dynamics of superconductors and novel magnetic materials. "Understanding complicated materials requires sophisticated scientific tools," he says, noting that humankind has moved from simple materials—such as bronze, iron, steel, and silicon—to mastering more complex materials, such as polymers, proteins, nanomaterials, and superconductors.
Compared with other facilities, the SNS will provide more comprehensive information about materials, using smaller samples. Neutrons produced in the SNS will reveal more details about the magnetic structure of nanoscale materials.
"The SNS is one of the largest science projects under way in the world and is the largest science project in DOE's Office of Science," Mason says. "It also will be the largest materials research user facility in terms of investment. The project will be ready in 2006, and a lot has been happening in terms of design and construction.
"The scope of research at SNS will be tremendously broad, so it will have a big impact on many areas in science," Mason explains, listing superconductivity, magnetism, inorganic chemistry, solid-state chemistry, polymer chemistry, life sciences, and engineering. "The SNS will revolutionize our understanding of the structure and dynamics of proteins, plastics, and engineering materials."
Structure determines the properties of a material, he says, noting that three forms of carbon—graphite, diamonds, and buckyballs— have different properties because of their unique structures. "Knowledge of structure and dynamics suggests ways to make a better material," Mason says.
The SNS, which will be a DOE scientific user facility, will enable researchers to obtain detailed information that will result in improved manufacturing processes and products. "The SNS will reveal the origins and mechanisms of behavior that become important in materials that go into real products and real industries," Mason says. "These could be magnetic devices for information storage, or chemical products that go into latex paints or better plastics or high-strength alloys or composite materials—things that eventually wind up in cars, airplanes, and computers and data storage units."
The SNS, he adds, will enable studies of residual stresses and other features of matter in a realistic environment. Residual strains in intact engineering components can be measured using the VULCAN instrument at the SNS. Researchers will be able to detect subtle shifts in the position and motion of atoms in, for example, a mineral that is squeezed in a diamond anvil pressure cell at the Spallation Neutron and Pressure, or "SNAP," beam line.
Pending the construction of a second target station, in 20 years the SNS should be operating approximately 45 best-in-class neutron science instruments with two differently optimized target stations and total beam power in the 3- to 4- megawatt range. Scientists at the SNS will be able to address such questions as, why is a material failing, how can a certain manufacturing process be improved, or why do some compounds contract when heated and expand when cooled?
"The SNS will have the capability to advance the state of the art in spallation neutron source technology," he adds. "Research and development work will be conducted on accelerators, targets, and neutron scattering instruments to keep SNS at the forefront."
"The SNS will not only be breaking new scientific ground," says Mason, noting that the project is interesting from a sociological standpoint because it is being built as a multilaboratory partnership. "The project is a model for major facilities of the future, such as next-generation linear colliders and fusion devices."
Web site provided by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Communications and External Relations