"The use of neutrons as a probe...is an essential measurement
tool for researchers in a wide variety of scientific fields," says
a new report on U.S. neutron scattering capability. It warns that "the
United States is at a distinct disadvantage in overall neutron scattering
capability per capita compared to Western Europe or Japan," and
demand will exceed supply of this important research tool "in this
country for the foreseeable future." Over the past decade, while
"the number of users at U.S. neutron facilities nearly doubled,
the overall number of instruments available dropped more than 15 percent,
[and] one major facility was closed," states OSTP Director John
Marburger in his cover letter.
The "Report on the Status and Needs of Major Neutron Scattering
Facilities and Instruments in the United States" was released in
June by an OSTP Interagency Working Group on Neutron Science. It provides
a comprehensive assessment of the major neutron sources in the U.S.,
including the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) under construction at
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and offers recommendations "on how
to maximize the impact and effectiveness" of these facilities.
Among its findings, the report notes that "the neutron scattering
infrastructure in the United States has suffered several major setbacks"
in recent years, and "[t]he amount of beam time available through
the general user programs is being limited to some degree at all facilities
by the amount of resources available for full user support." It
also finds that "the completion of the SNS construction project
will still leave the majority of potential beamlines undeveloped and
thus the full SNS capability under-utilized." The report does not
offer funding recommendations, nor provide cost estimates for its recommendations.
According to the report, "the highest priority goals for the U.S.
neutron scattering facilities" are as follows:
"To seek ways to fully exploit the best present neutron
source facilities and the SNS; to broaden access to these facilities
for the benefit of the broadest possible scientific community; to
improve coordination between agencies, facilities and stakeholders
so that the overall U.S. neutron capability is fully optimized; and
to foster the advances in neutron source technology and neutron methods
needed to develop advanced neutron techniques and develop future neutron
In support of these goals, the Interagency Working Group (IWG) provides
the following recommendations:
RECOMMENDATION 1: "The IWG recommends that the
highest priority for federal investments in neutron scattering is
to fully exploit the best U.S. neutron source capabilities - including
the SNS - for the benefit of the broadest possible scientific community."
Federal funding should be used to develop at least 85 percent of available
beam lines with world-class instrumentation; to maximize the beam
time available to the broad scientific community; to fully staff and
support the neutron scattering instruments; and to support research
using neutron scattering techniques.
RECOMMENDATION 2: "The IWG recommends that the
steward agency for each of the major neutron facilities form partnerships
with other federal agencies to meet the objectives of Recommendation
1." These partnerships should: support the role of the steward
agency, the program objectives of the partners, and the needs of the
U.S. research community; promote the facility staff's management and
operation of the instruments; and provide adequate resources to develop
and operate instruments in a robust user program. The terms of the
partnership should be clear and mutually agreed upon, and the participating
agencies should jointly select and review projects.
RECOMMENDATION 3: "The IWG recommends a series
of actions to improve coordination between participating agencies,
facility managers, and user organizations in order to maximize the
overall effectiveness of the nation's neutron resources." OSTP
should take the lead in fostering interagency coordination of U.S.
neutron scattering capability; a mechanism should be established to
foster cooperation, collaboration, and mutual planning among the nation's
neutron facilities; and the steward agencies and facility management
should foster improved communication and coordination among the user
RECOMMENDATION 4: "The IWG recommends that participating
federal agencies promote and coordinate efforts to advance neutron
scattering methods and neutron source technology needed for the future."
The agencies should promote upgrades and enhancements to scattering
instruments; development of new and improved scattering methods; R&D
in neutron source technology; and "efforts to expand the application
of neutron scattering to new areas of science."
The IWG also lists, in priority order, the three most important actions
that should be taken to implement its recommendations. Because it finds
the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) project "the most significant
enhancement of neutron source capability in the United States at this
time," its highest and most immediate priority addresses that facility:
Implementation Priority 1: "The Department of
Energy, the National Science Foundation, and other interested agencies,
should immediately establish a framework for an interagency partnership
to provide funding resources to develop and operate a robust suite
of instruments, approximately 75% of full instrumentation, to address
a broad spectrum of neutron scattering measurements at the SNS. To
be timely, the framework for instrument development should be affected
within the next six months."
Implementation Priority 2: "The IWG recommends
that NIST and the Department of Commerce along with their partners,
including the National Science Foundation, continue to fully support:
1) the source operations of the NCNR [NIST Center for Neutron Research];
2) the improvements in source and instrument capability; and 3) the
increased levels of support for both the NIST research program and
the general science community." The IWG also urges NIST and the
Commerce Department to "fully support all activities related
to the license renewal for the NIST reactor by the Nuclear Regulatory
Implementation Priority 3: "The IWG recommends
that [DOE] should fully support the cold source and instrument upgrade
project at the HFIR [High Flux Isotope Reactor] and ensure that the
instruments are operated to support a robust general user program."
The 63-page report can be found in pdf format on the OSTP web site
Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics