The Center as a User Facility

The NIST Center for Neutron Research is a national user facility whose mission is to ensure the availability of neutron measurement capabilities in order to meet the needs of U.S. researchers from industry, academia, and government agencies. The NCNR user community is robust and eager to obtain access to the NCNR facilities, routinely submitting more than 300 proposals per year. In a recent call for proposals, more than 1,900 days of beam time were requested, corresponding to an average instrument oversubscription of 2.1. The new option to mail in samples for the powder diffractometer is being exercised, providing a good alternative to costly travel and difficult scheduling issues. In 2007, more than 850 users came to the NCNR, and the productivity of the instruments was estimated to be between 50 and 60 users per instrument, a figure on par with European sources. Approximately 10 percent of the participants are NIST personnel from outside the NCNR. The advent of the expanded and upgraded instrument suite is eagerly anticipated by the user community, although some concerns were expressed over intermediate-term access during the expansion.

The NCNR User Group surveys users every 3 years. The most recent survey, conducted in 2007, included responses from students and postdoctoral researchers, staff members, and external principal investigators. Discussion by the panel with the head of the NUG confirmed that users rate the training facilities and instruments as “good” to “excellent.” NCNR personnel are an essential part of the equation, and users evaluated their performance as “excellent.”

The concerns of users were primarily associated with the availability of specialized sample environments, easy access to their data after leaving the facility (via the World Wide Web, for example), and the availability of software and associated tutorials for data analysis. Another important concern was the compatibility of data formats among different facilities, since users would like to be able to easily merge measurements made at the NCNR with those made elsewhere. Finally, office space in the current NCNR building is extremely tight for visiting scientists. This last problem will probably be alleviated by the addition of the new office building as part of the facility expansion.

Management is seen as responsive to ideas generated by the NUG. For example, the NCNR has purchased a new, large-bore magnet and has initiated a Small Grants Program to develop and build sample environments. This innovative approach is an excellent way to take advantage of the capabilities of the user community and should yield some creative results. The Small Grants Program received only one application in 2007, which was unfunded. In 2008, a more aggressive solicitation yielded five or six inquiries that were expected to turn into formal applications. Specialized sample environments may help distinguish and strengthen NCNR capabilities as other U.S. neutron sources come online.

The beam-time allocation process at the NCNR is well run. All proposals are reviewed by three to five external reviewers as well as by members of the Beam Time Allocation Committee. Members of the committee are all external to the NCNR and are appointed by the NCNR in consultation with the National Science Foundation (NSF) for



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The Center as a User Facility The NIST Center for Neutron Research is a national user facility whose mission is to ensure the availability of neutron measurement capabilities in order to meet the needs of U.S. researchers from industry, academia, and government agencies. The NCNR user community is robust and eager to obtain access to the NCNR facilities, routinely submitting more than 300 proposals per year. In a recent call for proposals, more than 1,900 days of beam time were requested, corresponding to an average instrument oversubscription of 2.1. The new option to mail in samples for the powder diffractometer is being exercised, providing a good alternative to costly travel and difficult scheduling issues. In 2007, more than 850 users came to the NCNR, and the productivity of the instruments was estimated to be between 50 and 60 users per instrument, a figure on par with European sources. Approximately 10 percent of the participants are NIST personnel from outside the NCNR. The advent of the expanded and upgraded instrument suite is eagerly anticipated by the user community, although some concerns were expressed over intermediate-term access during the expansion. The NCNR User Group surveys users every 3 years. The most recent survey, conducted in 2007, included responses from students and postdoctoral researchers, staff members, and external principal investigators. Discussion by the panel with the head of the NUG confirmed that users rate the training facilities and instruments as “good” to “excellent.” NCNR personnel are an essential part of the equation, and users evaluated their performance as “excellent.” The concerns of users were primarily associated with the availability of specialized sample environments, easy access to their data after leaving the facility (via the World Wide Web, for example), and the availability of software and associated tutorials for data analysis. Another important concern was the compatibility of data formats among different facilities, since users would like to be able to easily merge measurements made at the NCNR with those made elsewhere. Finally, office space in the current NCNR building is extremely tight for visiting scientists. This last problem will probably be alleviated by the addition of the new office building as part of the facility expansion. Management is seen as responsive to ideas generated by the NUG. For example, the NCNR has purchased a new, large-bore magnet and has initiated a Small Grants Program to develop and build sample environments. This innovative approach is an excellent way to take advantage of the capabilities of the user community and should yield some creative results. The Small Grants Program received only one application in 2007, which was unfunded. In 2008, a more aggressive solicitation yielded five or six inquiries that were expected to turn into formal applications. Specialized sample environments may help distinguish and strengthen NCNR capabilities as other U.S. neutron sources come online. The beam-time allocation process at the NCNR is well run. All proposals are reviewed by three to five external reviewers as well as by members of the Beam Time Allocation Committee. Members of the committee are all external to the NCNR and are appointed by the NCNR in consultation with the National Science Foundation (NSF) for 13

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nominal terms of 3 years. Regular rotation of new members onto the committee is encouraged to maintain fresh perspectives. The NSF-supported Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering Program is an important facet of the NCNR and an outstanding example of collaborative activity between government agencies. In addition to providing direct support for a subset of neutron scattering instruments, CHRNS supports key educational and outreach activities. These include summer schools on neutron scattering techniques and Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships. The NCNR also provides support for graduate students to work with NCNR scientists. These activities are indispensable for developing the next generation of scientists and engineers conversant with neutron scattering. Security is a continuing issue. To its credit, in contrast to some government installations whose security apparatus impedes contact with the outside, the NCNR is trying to maintain a rational security program in order to allow efficient use of the facility. Two people are employed to facilitate user access. Foreign visitors are required to apply for permission 35 days before arriving at the NCNR, on a par with or shorter than the lead time required at other national facilities. The present system seems to meet all security requirements while keeping the spirit needed in a center of learning. However, this area requires ongoing attention. 14