Spallation Neutron Source

24.03.2015 |

Episode #8 of the course “Most ambitious science projects”

The Spallation Neutron Source is essentially a molecule movie camera. Each month, the Spallation Neutron Source, located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, takes between 25 and 28 megawatts of electricity from the grid and consumes nearly 8.5 million gallons of water to remain at low temperatures.

The SNS needed approximately 1.5 billion dollars to build and requires $163 million yearly to maintain. It also has 500 personnel. While operating, the particle accelerator in the SNS emits a rush of two quadrillion neutrons per pulse to a targeted location chamber. These thick clouds of neutrons bounce off components to demonstrate how atomic edifices evolve as time passes.


Uses for Science

The SNS propels neutrons toward a sample at almost 97 percent of lightspeed. But unlike particles in a collider, neutrons do not yield massive explosions when they plow into their sample. Because these neutrons are tiny and contain so little energy, neutrons come only very slightly in contact with matter. As the neutrons go through an example, they bounce and spread widely from the atomic nuclei. That interchange redirects the energy and path of those neutrons.

Then 14 different tools, located a couple of feet from the sample, rank those differences in trajectory. The software then compiles all the data of the bouncing and spreading to construct the sample’s atomic structure. Because the SNS propels packets of neutrons at 60 pulses per second, it can track information to show how structures evolve as time passes, similar to shooting single movie frames and then combing each frame together to simulate motion.


Uses for Practical Life

Batteries could become more efficient. Researchers are now using atomic-scale films to keep track of how batteries charge and discharge in real life outside of the lab. Eventually, it will also be an important part of studying protein structure.


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