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Addition of seventh HFIR cycle provides more research time for the user community

A team from ORNL, Indiana University and Max Planck Institute in Germany has implemented a technique with Wollaston prisms to expand the capabilities currently available at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor instrument HB-1. Thomas Keller (back, right), a visiting physicist from Max Planck, traveled to Oak Ridge to observe how HFIR’s team was handling the same prism technology used for ultra-high spectroscopy at his own laboratory. Image credit: Genevieve Martin/ORNL

October 21, 2016 – For the first time since 2011, scientific users of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s High Flux Isotope Reactor were able to take advantage of a seventh cycle, allowing for 25 extra days of neutron production and available time for new experiments on HFIR’s 12 beam lines in fiscal year 2016.

Simply put, more neutron production time means more opportunities for visiting scientists, or users, to conduct experiments to study materials for applications in physics, chemistry, biology and engineering at HFIR using the facility’s intense neutron flux.

“The idea is that we can offer more days for the experiments and we can accommodate far more scientists,” said Jaime Fernandez-Baca, group leader for the Quantum Condensed Matter Division. “This availability produces more science, more published papers, more research and very, very happy users.”

Fernandez-Baca cited a Laboratory Directed Research & Development project to develop new techniques in ultra-high resolution spectroscopy as one project that benefited from the year's 17 percent increase in neutrons, providing the research team with sufficient time to complete the last tests before the end of the LDRD project in September.

Using a technique based on superconducting magnet blocks called “Wollaston Prisms”—a tool recently developed at Indiana University—Fernandez-Baca and his ORNL/IU team collaborated with Thomas Keller, a visiting physicist from the Max Planck Institute in Germany, to run these tests on HFIR’s HB-1 beam line. 

Though his visit lasted only seven days, Keller said that he would have never received an opportunity to observe the prism-based spectroscopy technique with Fernandez-Baca’s team unless the seventh cycle was added.

“We are using the technology from Indiana to pioneer this prism technique, both for the people at this laboratory and for use back in the laboratory I work in,” Keller said. “This technique uses novel hardware, but it has the potential to build on the capabilities that are already at HFIR.

“I’m here to watch and refine that technique, and this opportunity was made special for this year’s 7th cycle.”

Keller said collaboration with an international team helps shorten the amount of experiment time needed to perfect the technique because of the talents offered by the scientists, engineers and technicians at HFIR.

“I wanted to work with people who have a vision for this emerging technology, and that’s exactly what I’ve seen so far while I’ve been here [at ORNL],” he said.

In fact, Fernandez-Baca explained that the entire collaboration was made possible not only by the added cycle, but also through the foresight in pursuing this development to implement this new capability for ultra-high resolution spectroscopy at HFIR.

“By end of the project, we will have fully functioning capabilities to launch a high-resolution neutron spectroscopy program at the HFIR,” Fernandez-Baca explained.

HFIR’s seventh cycle in 2016 is part of a long-term organizational vision presented by Associate Laboratory Director for Neutron Sciences Paul Langan. The goal is to provide seven neutron cycles each year in the future, explained Langan, which will provide optimum neutron production for the user community.

According to Tim Powers, division director for the Research Reactors Division, maintenance of the reactor and supporting systems have become an even larger focus to ensure the new expectation is sustained. Powers also pointed out the facility’s newest cycle resulted, in part, from years of requests from HFIR’s scientific community.

“We have an obligation to serve the scientific community as best we can; so this seventh cycle is an attempt to balance the needs of the scientific community with the maintenance requirements of the reactor and supporting systems, and trying to make us more effective with the resources we have now,” he said.

HFIR is a DOE Office of Science User Facility. UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://energy.gov/science/. – By Heidi Hill