Q. You have decades of research experience across Europe and the U.S. What brought you to the SNS?
I've always had sort of a 7-year, 10-year itch, so the longest I've stayed anywhere has been 10 years. When the SNS project began, I had been working for about 10 years at the Institut Laue-Langevin in France—which at the time was the most powerful neutron source in the world. I was looking for something new to do, and the SNS was the next challenge. It was the most exciting project around, and it was going to expand the boundaries of what could be done in the field. So it looked like the right place to come for an exciting opportunity.
Q. In general terms, what research capabilities does the SNS provide that its predecessors cannot?
The SNS is still the most exciting act in town. We're 5 to 10 times more powerful than any other pulsed neutron source—even when we're not operating at full power. Basically the biggest advantage the SNS has is the sheer intensity of neutrons compared with other sources. This allows us to do things that can't be done elsewhere. We can make more difficult measurements and analyze smaller samples than was possible before.
For instance, in the field of biology, neutrons are very good at locating hydrogen in protein crystals. Hydrogen is important because it is usually active in making proteins functional. In the past, the problem was that we couldn't get protein crystals that were big enough to make the measurements in a reasonable amount of time. However, as a result of its high neutron flux, the SNS can make measurements that would have taken six months to a year anywhere else in a couple weeks or a few days. So it's going to enable structures to be measured that couldn't be measured before.
Q. Could you describe a few of the facility's major accomplishments?
In operations, our major accomplishment is that we have managed to ramp up to close to the 1MW power level—we expect to be at that level in just a few weeks. We've done this with a machine that is new technology and with a novel target design. Also, the choice of using superconducting technology has proven its worth. It has been a major accomplishment to get the machine to this level in the amount of time we said we would.
Of course now that we have delivered the machine, we are focusing on the science program and the important new results that are being obtained. Some exciting new results have already been obtained on a new class of iron arsenide superconducting materials. The work done at the SNS advances our understanding of so called ‘unconventional' superconductivity and is helping theorists get a handle on the basic mechanisms that give rise to superconductivity. A lot of work has also been done on polymers and drug release systems, self-healing polymers, and biopolymers that mimic biological membranes.
We have also done interesting work with layered magnetic films that may have applications in the areas of computers and electronic components, in collaboration with ORNL's Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences.
Q. What scientific disciplines do you feel will be most profoundly impacted by the SNS?
One of the areas we will affect the most is biology, because we have such a high intensity of neutrons that we'll be able to measure the structure of protein crystals and biological membranes and understand their functions much better than we were able to before.
Another area in which the SNS will be influential is the study of materials under extreme conditions. One of the advantages of neutrons is that they penetrate materials very easily, so we can look at something we want to study in an extreme environment—under extreme pressures or temperatures. Neutrons can penetrate the test chamber and determine how materials are functioning under those conditions.
Materials are often expected to function under severe conditions that test their limits, so we need to be able to understand how their properties are affected as we push them harder. This is where SNS comes in with a "tour de force" suite of instruments that is capable of looking at all sorts of materials under real operating conditions. We expect that this capability will revolutionize the materials world. This is an area that we're very good at.
Also we'll have a major impact on nanoscience. Our relationship with the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences is very important in this area. Neutrons are particularly useful in studying issues at the nanoscale, including those related to biomaterials and the interfaces between materials and nanoparticles that cannot be "seen" by any other technique. In particular the range of instruments available at SNS will enable researchers to study the assembly of nanoparticles into hierarchical structures whose properties can be tailored to perform specific functions. We are already combining the strengths of SNS and CNMS to study biomimetic materials and new polymers with targeted functions.
We must also be a good neighbor. A recent article by Chairman Bart Gordon of the House Science and Technology Committee stated that scientists who benefit from the funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) program should focus not only on solving scientific challenges but also on creating jobs—not only in the community, but in the region and in the nation. This must be a priority for the laboratory.
Q. I understand you're planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Do you see any similarities between this challenge and that of the construction and operation of the SNS?
Yes, I look at the ramp-up of power at the SNS—getting it to its full capabilities—as being very much like climbing a mountain. It's a very interesting challenge. I can imagine that the success you feel when you get to the top of Kilimanjaro is similar to what we will feel when we've got SNS at its peak and running at its full capability.
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