Major Observations of the Subpanel

The subpanel presents the following major observations.

  • The scientific achievements of the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) attest to the wise management of the reactor's relatively limited resources. Nonetheless, uncertain budget prospects for the next several years raise some concern over the NCNR's future ability to continue functioning at the forefront of neutron science. The emergence of the NCNR cold-neutron source as the leading facility of its kind among national neutron facilities makes the continued vitality of the NCNR especially critical.

  • The reactor and the cold source have continued to operate at impressive levels of availability. Operational safety matters are receiving strong management attention and support. The response to a minor non-safety-critical incident during the year was handled competently and with a commendable degree of conservatism. Planning for the upcoming major reactor-facility upgrade and Nuclear Regulatory Commission license extension is on course.

  • Significant progress has been achieved in bringing next-generation instruments on line. The high-flux backscattering spectrometer has achieved operational status with excellent energy resolution and sensitivity. The spin echo spectrometer has yielded its first echo observation and is now ready for testing prior to commissioning late in 1999. The disk chopper time-of-flight spectrometer is in final assembly. Progress has also been made in upgrading the two thermal triple axis spectrometers (BT-7 and BT-9) in the reactor containment building, and the subpanel was pleased to observe that the NCNR staff continue to develop promising plans for future instrumental innovations and improvements.

  • Relations between the NCNR and its user community remain excellent. A number of constructive suggestions for improved facility support have been communicated to the NCNR management following a user-initiated and directed survey, and prospects for timely implementation of these suggestions appear good. A particularly urgent need is for the enhancement of on-site data storage and analysis support.

  • The decision to shift research emphasis toward the life sciences is timely and is supported by the subpanel. However, successful implementation of this decision will require a high degree of collaboration with established centers of life-science excellence within NIST and elsewhere, and careful planning and coordination with the life-sciences community are necessary to determine the focus and context of the neutron experiments in this field.

  • The NCNR strength in theory and modeling has been increased with an addition to the permanent staff. Additional creative effort to increase the impact of theory on the science program has received strong encouragement.

  • Plans are in place for orderly transitions in senior management over the next 5 or so years, and initial implementations are moving forward at an acceptable rate.

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