The way neutrons scatter off gases, liquids and solid matter gives us information about the structure of these materials (elastic neutron scattering). The neutron excitation of atoms gives information about the binding energy within matter (inelastic neutron scattering). Their ability to act as "small elementary magnets" makes neutrons an ideal probe for the determination of structures and dynamics of unknown magnetic matter.
Heavy nuclei can be split with neutrons. This can shed light on a number of still unknown processes in atomic fission. Neutrons can also be captured by nuclei. The process releases secondary radiation which can be used to determine the inner structure of these nuclei.
Besides nuclear and particle physics, neutrons are used in a broad range of fields of research. In Condensed Matter Physics, materials science and chemistry the can be explouted for:
- Examination of the structure of new materials, for example new ceramic high-temperature superconductors or magnetic materials (important for electronic and electrical applications).
- Clarification of still unknown phenomena in processes such as recharging of electric batteries.
- Storing of hydrogen in metals, an important feature for the development of renewable energy sources.
- Analysis of important parameters (for example elasticity) in polymers (for example plastic material).
- Colloid research gives new information on such diverse subjects as the extraction of oil, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food industry and medicine.
Biological materials, naturally rich in hydrogen and other light elements, are ideal samples for analysis with neutrons, such as cell membranes, proteins, virus investigations, photosynthesis in plants.
Delaware researchers utilize following techniques at the Institute Laue-Langevin in Grenoble, France:
- Neutron diffraction is a powerful and often unique tool for studying the structure of objects used in everyday life. It is in fact a very precise technique for measuring the structure of crystalline materials, ranging from the simplest to the most complex.
- Small-angle scattering does not attempt to see atoms but is interested in the organisation of particles in dispersed systems. As scattering elements are large (grains, bubbles, micelles,..), diffraction occurs at very small angles.
- To understand the properties of materials it is also necessary to have knowledge of how the atoms and molecules vibrate, rotate and move within the medium. Inelastic neutron scattering is an excellent means of studying these movements.
Compare Neutron vs. Sychrotron Radiation.
- neutron scattering studies of quantum fluids and solids at nanoscales and on interfaces
- neutron scattering studies of classical fluids at nanoscales and on interfaces.
B. Fak and H. R. Glyde, Excitations of superfluid 4He in confinement, Chapter 10 in "Microscopic Approaches to Quantum Liquids in Conned Geometries," eds. E. Krotscheck and J. Navarro, Vol. 4 of "Advances in Quantum Many-Body Theory" (World Scientific, Singapore, 2001). [PDF]