Since the construction of the pyramids some five thousand years ago, humankind has marveled at projects of extraordinary scale. America's reputation as an emerging world power was enhanced enormously by the Panama Canal and the Transcontinental Railroad, less because of their function than the unprecedented level of political and operational discipline required to build them. Barely three years since the first neutrons were produced, one often senses that the image of the Spallation Neutron Source remains more a "Modern Marvel" of engineering scale and complexity than a facility that is now turning out some of the world's most advanced materials research.
The reputation is understandable. Boldly conceived as a neutron source that would surpass the performance of European and Asian competitors by a factor of ten, the SNS was a design challenge beyond the capabilities of a single national laboratory. The ability to marshal the collective talents of six diverse labs, to sustain congressional support for large appropriations in a period of fiscal restraint—followed by the delivery of a $1.4 billion project on time, on budget and on scope—is one of the truly great success stories of the Department of Energy. Ironically, the political and operational discipline that made possible one of the world's largest science projects is a success story that often overshadows the remarkable research being generated today at the SNS.
This issue of the ORNL Review provides a snapshot of the initial research produced by an international collection of scientific talent working with an unmatched array of instruments at the SNS. Some 200 papers have already been submitted for publication in fields ranging from biological sciences to polymers. As the volume of data and publications expands, the SNS is on a path to redefine the scope and potential of materials research. Such a lofty goal is not unreasonable for one of the world's largest and most modern research facilities. The delivery of groundbreaking science is viewed as an expectation of the Department of Energy, an obligation owed to the American people and a self-imposed responsibility by an SNS research staff aware of their unique moment in history.
The SNS, unlike the launching of a ship or the dedication of a bridge, remains a work in progress. Having achieved a beam power of 870 kilowatts, the SNS has smashed the previous world record of 150 kilowatts and is ahead of schedule to reach the goal of 1.4 megawatts. Roughly one-half of the eventual total of 25 enormous instruments have been installed, and the number of researchers seeking to use the instruments is oversubscribed.
Perhaps because the march toward an unprecedented magnitude of power and instruments is ongoing, public fascination with the scale of the SNS appears undiminished. As proud as they are of what they have built, the SNS research team is now focused on finding solutions to some of humankind's most important scientific challenges. If successful, the science they hope to produce, and the applications of that science to the international community, will reshape the image of the SNS for generations to come.
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