A 20th research instrument is under construction at the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The new neutron imaging instrument is known as VENUS, or Versatile Neutron Imaging Instrument. It is expected to be completed in 2022 and expected to be ready for scientific use by 2023.
“The beam line will ensure the United States remains competitive with international spallation sources that are already building or currently operate advanced imaging instruments,” ORNL said in an article by Jeremy Rumsey published Tuesday.
The new instrument will allow researchers to study “in real time” the makeup and performance of a wide range of functional materials under varying environments, ORNL said.
“Coupled with SNS, the world’s most powerful pulsed accelerator-based neutron source, VENUS will be the only open research facility platform in the U.S. to provide time-of-flight neutron imaging capabilities to users from academia and industry,” the lab said.
The time-of-flight technique uses time-stamped neutrons that can be adjusted and pre-selected across a range of energies, ORNL said. The technique helps reveal structural information with low-energy neutrons and pinpoints specific elements within a sample using high-energy neutrons.
“For example, to distinguish between certain heavy elements such as europium, tantalum, gadolinium, and uranium, one needs higher-energy neutrons, which SNS provides,” said ORNL instrument scientist Hassina Bilheux, a lead developer in the VENUS project. “Measuring with VENUS will provide us with three-dimensional maps showing us where a heavy element is located within a sample, and we’ll be able to switch between different heavy elements. That capability will be incredibly beneficial in optimizing the efficiency of novel nuclear materials, which is a high priority for (the U.S. Department of Energy).”
“Neutron imaging is about contrast—seeing something behind something else or seeing the difference between one side of your sample and the other,” Bilheux said. “For example, if you want to see lithium as it’s moving through the battery, you need contrast to isolate the signal coming from lithium ions.”
Building the VENUS beamline will take advantage of the SNS accelerator-based neutron source and provide advanced imaging techniques that complement those currently available at the lab’s steady-state neutron source, the High Flux Isotope Reactor, ORNL said.
To meet the 2023 timeline, developers are using a portion of beam time on another instrument to develop imaging software and train users ahead of VENUS’s launch. Design of the instrument and its major components is under way, ORNL said.
“VENUS will enable us to not only gather information about a material’s structure but also how the structure is changing during applied load such as heat or pressure,” Bilheux said. “We’ll be able to do more experiments and get faster results, all without having to use multiple imaging instruments.”
SNS generates neutrons for scientific research by propelling protons down a linear accelerator. When the protons collide with a liquid mercury target, they create a “spall” of neutrons that are sent down beam lines surrounded by research instruments.
The Spallation Neutron Source cost $1.4 billion, and it started operating in 2006. It provides the most intense pulsed neutron beams in the world for scientific research and industrial development.
It’s one of two neutron sources at ORNL. The other is the High Flux Isotope Reactor, or HFIR.
Scientists use neutrons to study the structure of matter because they penetrate, carry no charge, and are nondestructive. That makes them suitable for studying, for example, biological structures, metal stresses and defects, and magnetic behavior in quantum materials, ORNL said.
See an overview of VENUS here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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