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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 to meet the needs of U.S. researchers from industry, universities and other academic institutions, and other government agencies. The NCNR continues safely and reliably to provide a high flux of neutrons to an evolving suite of high-quality instruments and sample environments. The current array of thermal- and cold-neutron instruments at the NCNR enables measurements over a wide range of timescales, energy scales, and length scales. Over the next few years, the cold-neutron capabilities at the NCNR will be increased by more than 25 percent through the centerâs Expansion Project. The enhancements associated with this project include the recent completion of a new building for technical services and administration, expansion of the guide hall, the installation of a new cold source, and the acquisition of new instruments, as well as improvements to some existing instruments. The facilities and measurement capabilities at the NCNR play a critical role in advancing science and developing new technologies in the United States and enable NIST to fulfill its role of promoting science, standards, and technology. The new instruments and upgrades associated with the planned facility expansion 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 Councilâs Panel on Neutron Research included the following: (1) the degree to which NCNR programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and fulfill the mission of the organizational unit (the NCNR); (2) the technical merits and scientific caliber of the current NCNR programs relative to comparable programs worldwide; and (3) the alignment between NCNR research and development efforts and those services and other mission-critical deliverables for which the NCNR is responsible. With the Expansion Project well underway, the report also contains the panelâs more retrospective review of the NCNR in order to provide a benchmark for comparison as the facility goes through a major upgrade. KEY FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The panel presents the following key findings and major recommendations from its 2011 assessment of the NCNR. 1. A signature feature of the NCNR is a culture and environment that promotes respect for science, user education and training, and internal leadership development. 2. The NCNR has been and continues to be a leading facility in cold-neutron research. The Expansion Project will significantly improve the capabilities of the facility. Continued support to upgrade instruments and develop the next generation of state-of-the-art instruments should enable the NCNR to remain among the best user facilities for neutron research in the world. 1
3. The NCNR has also developed and retained instrument scientists and research personnel with, in many cases, considerable scientific reputations. The continued scientific excellence of the NCNR scientific staff is critical for maintaining the quality and impact of neutron-scattering science by the facility and its users and for developing new measurement techniques and applications. RECOMMENDATION 1: The NCNR management should continue to take care that the next generation of senior researchers continues to develop and remain excited about their research and that they are not overly burdened with administrative and other duties that are not characterized as research. 4. The NCNR has consistently operated safely, efficiently, and reliably. The NCNR has maintained a safe and secure facility while serving the needs of a robust neutron-scattering community through an open-call, merit-based proposal process. 5. Partnerships with universities and other agencies have strengthened the scientific impact and capabilities of the NCNR. For example, the Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering (CHRNS) represents a long-standing partnership between the NCNR and the National Science Foundation. It provides funds for scientific staff to support users on the CHRNS instruments; instrument development such as the multi-angle crystal spectrometer (MACS), a best-of-its-kind, high-flux spectrometer allowing ultrahigh-sensitivity access to dynamic correlations in condensed matter on length scales from 0.1 nm to 50 nm and energy scales from 0.05 meV to 20 meV; and outreach activities to educate and serve the neutron-scattering community. Flexible partnerships with universities have enabled the NCNR to carry out leading-edge research and advance the application of neutron- scattering techniques. 6. The Expansion Project is moving ahead well within the expected range of uncertainties. Given the historically exceptional reliability and performance of the NCNR, a timely and successful restart of the facility is expected by the research community after the period of outage needed to complete the Expansion Project. The maintaining of direct control of the project by the Director of the NCNR should enable rapid response to and mitigation of potential challenges for a timely restart. 7. Discretionary time on the NCNR instruments is used for calibration measurements, instrument development, and projects conducted by NIST researchers, but it is also very important for the following purposes: (1) bringing new users into the facility and introducing them to neutron- scattering techniques in general, (2) providing flexibility and rapid access for cutting-edge science, and (3) developing and retaining excellent instrument scientists and personnel at the facility. RECOMMENDATION 2: Discretionary time on NCNR instruments should be maintained. 2
8. The maintenance of existing university partnerships and the development of new partnerships should continue to enhance the ability of the NCNR to advance neutron-measurement techniques and their application to science and engineering problems. 9. The NCNR has best-in-class instruments and capabilities in the area of soft condensed matter. A focus area in neutron-scattering measurements of membrane proteins has been significantly enhanced over previous years through collaborative partnerships involving the NCNR and other NIST laboratories and external collaborators, such as the Biomolecular Labeling Laboratory (involving the University of Maryland and the NIST Biochemical Science Division of the Material Measurement Laboratory); a joint hire of a research scientist with the Material Measurement Laboratory; and a proposal developed jointly by the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research (a collaborative institute involving NIST and the University of Maryland), JILA (located in Boulder, Colorado), and NCNR staff in this area. Continued emphasis and effort to ensure a successful realization of this partnership should greatly strengthen the capabilities and impact of biological work at the NCNR as well as tap into a high-growth community. The focus on membranes and membrane proteins is a reasonable approach, given the number of individuals currently spearheading this effort. 10. Synergies between the NCNR and the Polymer Division of the NIST Material Measurement Laboratory have historically led to highly productive science. RECOMMENDATION 3: Collaborative efforts with the NIST Material Measurement Laboratory and the Physical Measurement Laboratory should be maintained to aid the NCNR in extending its leadership in cold-neutron research. Future partnerships with the NIST Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology should be explored to strengthen the capabilities and impact of the NCNR. 11. Funding of the ion mobility spectrometer (IMS) proposal to develop scintillation detectors could lead to a significant improvement in detector capabilities and help to mitigate concerns regarding the future availability of 3 He for detectors. 12. Currently, the Beam Time Allocation Committee is working well. RECOMMENDATION 4: Care should be taken to ensure that the proposal review process continues to work effectively as the NCNR facility expands. 13. There is only one vendor for the fuel used in the NCNR reactor, and costs, which are increasing every year, will be substantially higher with the conversion to low enriched uranium. Additional operational funds will be required for the facility to maintain its high level of operating days and productivity. 3
14. 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 completion of the Expansion Project. 15. The development of software for facile structural biology analysis by the general user community is likely to have significant impact and will aid in promoting the conduct of neutron-scattering measurements by nontraditional users in the life sciences. Two personnel are being hired, using funds provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5), for the further development and refinement of the SASSIE analysis software (which is used to create atomistic models of molecular systems and also to compare scattering data from these models directly to experimental data), although these hires are for only 1 and 2 years for the respective tasks. Continuing support in this area can ensure the completion of a robust analysis package for users as well as enhanced modeling and analysis capabilities in the future. For example, similar capability to include known chemistry, physics, and structural information in order to analyze scattering data from magnetic materials would be extremely helpful not only for the analysis of scattering data but also for the design of pertinent experiments. 16. The development of facilities for the growth of large single crystals suitable for neutron-scattering experiments would remove a considerable hindrance to further advancement in many areas of condensed-matter science. The addition of this capacity would be an important service to the materials community. 17. The NCNR continues to develop novel ancillary sample environments and equipment, developed in part by users, such as the development of the novel shear cell with the University of Delaware, the development of the humidity cell for membrane studies with Carnegie Mellon University, and advances in 3 He polarization capabilities. Such capabilities add to the attractiveness of the NCNR as a facility for carrying out unique studies with a convenience not yet found in other facilities. RECOMMENDATION 5: The development at the NCNR of novel ancillary sample environments and equipment should be continued. 4