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FYI Number 77: June 28, 2002

OSTP Report: Neutron Scattering Demand Exceeds Supply

"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 scattering capability."

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 communities.

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 Commission."

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 at http://www.ostp.gov/html/NeutronIWGReport.pdf.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3094

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