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Summary The National Institute of Standards and Technology [NIST] Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) 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. This mission is aligned with the mission of NIST, which is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve the quality of life. As requested by the Deputy Director of NIST, the scope of the fiscal year 2009 assessment of the NCNR conducted by the National Research Council’s Panel on Neutron Research included the following criteria: (1) the technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide; (2) the adequacy of the laboratory budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory technical programs; and (3) the degree to which the laboratory programs in measurement science and standards achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. The NCNR has been an extremely reliable and comprehensive neutron scattering facility and will continue to be a vital resource for meeting the broad spectrum of users’ scientific objectives and needs for neutron scattering in the future. During the past year the NCNR has continued to sustain a high level of creativity, productivity, and quality in science and research in service to industry, academic, and government agency users. Half of U.S. neutron scatterers used the facility during the past year, demonstrating the scientific role that the NCNR plays in the country. The publication record of the NCNR facility attests to the high quality and quantity of research in diverse areas of fundamental neutron science, condensed-matter physics, and engineering. Resurgence in the collaborative partnership of the NCNR with the Polymers Division of the NIST Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory is visible and likely to enhance further the scientific output and impact in the soft-condensed-matter field. As indicated by the NCNR User Group, users are highly satisfied by the quality of the instruments, the support personnel, the access mechanism, and the facility as a whole. An excellent example of the scientific prowess of the facility in the past year was the work on novel Fe-based superconductors. This work was an exemplar of the strengths of the facility, which include rapid access, permitting crucial measurements to be carried out; the right combination of instruments; scientific leadership in the field; and a culture that seized the opportunity to be at the forefront of this sensational research development and enabled a major breakthrough in the field. The NCNR Expansion Project is well underway and will be critical for continuing the vitality and effectiveness of the facility. Through upgrades, reconfigurations, and the construction of novel instruments, the Expansion Project will ensure a comprehensive, competitive, and best-in-class suite of instruments for users in the future. To run the new suite of instruments and sample environments, and to continue providing excellent support to the increased number of users who will come to the facility to make use of these instruments, it will be crucial to increase the number of personnel in order to exploit fully the capabilities of the expanded facility. As the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL’s) Spallation Neutron Source becomes fully operational and ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) goes into full user-program mode, the NCNR will continue to be a vital resource for meeting the broad spectrum of user needs for and scientific objectives related to neutron scattering. In many cases, 1
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the NCNR will be the facility of choice owing to its comprehensive capabilities, unique instruments, and the scientific leadership of its personnel. A report by the Office of Science and Technology Policy Interagency Working Group on Neutron Science provides a summary of the capabilities of the major neutron scattering facilities in the United States and indicates that there are significant differences in the instrument distribution by class among the U.S. facilities.1 The report also suggests that the number of neutron scattering instruments available in the United States in the future will be less than half that available in Western Europe and less than that available in Japan. On a per capita basis, the United States has half the neutron scattering capacity of either Western Europe or Japan—and this shortfall is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. The NIST NCNR Web site (http://www.ncnr.nist.gov/nsources.html) provides links to the Web sites for each of the world’s major neutron scattering facilities, where detailed information is provided for each facility. The NIST Web site also provides access to detailed descriptions of the instrumentation at the NCNR (http://www.ncnr.nist.gov/instruments/) and of the NCNR Expansion Project and instrumentation (http://www.ncnr.nist.gov/expansion/expansion.html). Descriptions of the NCNR’s organization, facilities, and activities are provided in the NCNR 2008 annual report.2 A significant component of the excellence of the NCNR is the Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering (CHRNS) Program. Covering approximately 30 percent of the current beam lines, the CHRNS is the heart of the NCNR User Program and sets the standard of scientific productivity for other U.S. facilities. As described to the panel, each year the CHRNS supports about 500 users, many of them graduate students, and yields about 100 publications, about half of the high-impact publications of the NCNR. Developing the next generation of neutron scattering scientists and engineers is a vital part of the CHRNS and the NCNR. To continue to serve and grow the neutron scattering community and to maintain the excellent scientific productivity carried out at the facility, it is critical that the spirit of open access, while meeting all security requirements, be maintained. In light of the stellar reliability of the facility and service with respect to neutron scattering needs in the country, the potential for a prolonged and unplanned shutdown of the facility in the event of a safety shim arm failure gives rise to major concern. No spares are available at the facility, and the lead time for replacements is 8 months. Such a failure and an associated long, unplanned shutdown would be extremely detrimental to the neutron scattering capabilities in the U.S. contingency plans. Spares must be put in place as soon as possible to obviate this potential problem. The panel makes the following recommendations with respect to enhancing the effectiveness of the NCNR in the pursuit of its goals. 1. Sustain NCNR operation and reactor maintenance efforts during the NCNR Expansion Project by carrying out the following: Mitigate the potential for a long, unplanned shutdown of the facility by planning for contingencies with respect to safety shim arms; 1 Office of Science and Technology Policy Interagency Working Group on Neutron Science, Report on the Status and Needs of Major Neutron Scattering Facilities and Instruments in the United States, June 2002. Available at http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps23422/neutron.pdf. Accessed August 2009. 2 National Institute of Standards and Technology, Accomplishments and Opportunities: 2008 NIST Center for Neutron Research, NIST Special Publication 1089. Available at http://www.ncnr.nist.gov/AnnualReport/FY2008/AR2008.pdf. Accessed August 2009. 2
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Schedule all of the planned reactor upgrades, including the upgrade of the reactor control instrumentation, and the installation of the second cold neutron source to allow users to plan effectively; Engage in dialogue with the NCNR Users Group concerning access to facilities during the construction phase and upgrades; and Continue actively attending to maintenance of the scientific openness of the facility within the constraints of increasing security demands. 2. Enhance the soft-condensed-matter efforts of the facility in the following ways: Continue the development of new technical capabilities that will allow the NCNR to maintain leadership in key research areas that complement those of other facilities, such as the Spallation Neutron Source and the High Flux Isotope Reactor; Continue the development of the soft-matter consortium between the NCNR, the Polymers Division in the NIST Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory, and the University of Delaware; Increase network building with bioscientists at other institutions; strengthen NCNR interactions with the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology, involving NIST and the University of Maryland, pursuant to this goal; and more actively engage the broad biological community; Make it a clear objective of NCNR management to pursue aggressively the ongoing recruitment effort for a scientific leader in experimental soft-condensed matter; and Broaden the theory effort in the fields of statistical physics and biophysics; include in this effort a strong partnership with the Polymers Division. 3. Continue improvements to the NCNR User Program, including the following: Renew the CHRNS partnership with the National Science Foundation, which is the cornerstone of the User Program, outreach, and educational program of the NCNR; Commit to increasing research in biology and medicine at the NCNR through coordinated engagement of the broad community; Plan for substantially expanded outreach (for example, workshops and extended scientific programs) when the planned new office building becomes available; and Maintain the regular rotation schedule of new members onto the Beam Time Allocation Committee. 3