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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Center for Neutron Research: Fiscal Year 2010 Summary The NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) is a national user facility whose mission is to ensure the availability of neutron-measurement capabilities to meet the needs of U.S. researchers from industry, universities and other academic institutions, and other government agencies. The NCNR continues to provide reliably a high flux of neutrons to an evolving suite of high-quality instruments and sample environments. The array of thermal and cold neutron instruments available at the NCNR enables measurements over a wide range of time, energy, and length scales. These capabilities of the NCNR play a critical role in advancing science and developing new technologies in the United States, and they enable the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to fulfill its role of promoting science, standards, and technology. The new instruments and upgrades associated with the planned facility expansion over the next few years will ensure that the NCNR continues to provide users with access to internationally competitive instruments. As requested by the Director of NIST, the scope of the assessment of the NCNR by the National Research Council’s (NRC’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’s technical programs; and (3) the degree to which the laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. RECOMMENDATIONS The panel makes the following recommendations with respect to enhancing the effectiveness of the NCNR in the pursuit of its goals. Collaborative partnerships of the NCNR with the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) and the Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory (CSTL) should be further developed to enhance the scientific impact of NCNR activities in the areas of nanotechnology and biological sciences. A joint, senior hire in membrane protein biophysics with CSTL’s Biochemical Science Division should be a high priority. As new facilities come online and improvements are made to the existing facilities worldwide, it is imperative that the NCNR carry out continual instrumentation renewal so as to maintain state-of-the-art instruments and neutron-measurement capabilities for U.S. researchers. Along with the new instruments that will become available through the NCNR Expansion Project, the importance of sample environments (rheometry, magnetic fields, humidity, and other variables of importance to an experiment) should not be overlooked. The NCNR should continue its tradition of maintaining an aggressive program for their development. The NCNR, CSTL’s Biochemical Science Division, and NIST users—especially in biological sciences—will benefit greatly if a deuteration and
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Center for Neutron Research: Fiscal Year 2010 isotope-labeling facility becomes available. NIST should aggressively pursue this objective. The continued development of robust and user-friendly data-analysis tools will broadly benefit the neutron scattering community and will aid in the growth of this community by enabling non-expert users to utilize neutron scattering techniques. The SASSIE software package, if fully realized, could have an impact similar to that of the small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) analysis program based on the IGOR software tool, developed earlier at the NCNR. As highlighted by the research productivity and impact of the hard condensed-matter group in high-critical-temperature (Tc) superconductors, the close synergy between theory and experiment can lead to major breakthroughs. Such relationships should continue to be pursued across the NIST organizational units so as to broaden the modeling and theory capabilities accessible to NCNR scientists and users. With the planned transition from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, a new deuterium cold source would be beneficial for maintaining the flux at the NCNR to specific instruments. The use of focused beams may also provide an opportunity to broaden the range of experimental capabilities at the NCNR. One potential concern in the future will be the availability of helium-3 (3He) for detectors and cryogenics. The NCNR should regularly inform users regarding the Expansion Project. Changes in schedule, planned instruments and modifications, the expected time line for utilization of instruments, and coordination with other facilities will enable users to better mitigate the effects of the facility’s shutdown and subsequently enable them to exploit the new capabilities at the NCNR in a timely fashion. The NCNR has established a system that seems to preserve all safety requirements while keeping the openness and accessibility needed for a user facility. Continuing to maintain a rational security program within the constraints of increasing security demands is critical in order to allow efficient use of the facility, especially as the number of users increases with the Expansion Project.