Scientific investigation with neutrons gives researchers unprecedented capabilities for understanding the structure and properties of materials important in biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering. ORNL provides two of the most powerful neutron science facilities in the world—the High Flux Isotope Reactor and the Spallation Neutron Source. The HFIR produces one of the brightest steady-state neutron streams on Earth, and the SNS produces the world’s most intense pulsed neutron beams. Through materials research, scientists are discovering remarkable ways to address our energy needs, such as superconducting power cables that eliminate power-transmission losses and prevent outages, liquid transportation fuels produced from biomass, and magnetic refrigerators that use half the energy of conventional appliances.
To bring such technologies into common use, researchers need to be able to view materials from the atom-to-atom scale to a full systems view. Developing these advanced materials requires manipulating the properties of alloys at the atomic level, and neutron scattering is a key tool in this quest.
Neutrons show where atoms are and what they are doing at scales smaller than the best electron microscopes. They let researchers see in real time how the atomic lineup in a material shifts with changes in temperature, pressure, and magnetic or electronic fields. They trace the electron motions that give materials properties such as magnetism or the ability to conduct electricity—all essential information in the quest for energy savings.
Satisfying the world’s growing hunger for energy requires finding ways to use power more frugally and developing methods for sustainably producing additional energy. Neutron scattering aids the creation of new materials engineered for both purposes.
Learn more about using HFIR in your research.