Linköping University develops neutron optics for surface physics instruments

Swedish universities, institutes and companies are collaborating on planning new instruments for installation at ESS, the world's most powerful research facility for neutron radiation, outside Lund. The Swedish Research Council has now granted funding for two interdisciplinary projects as feasibility studies for future instruments at ESS: SAGA and HIBEAM. Researchers at LiU will develop optics that guide and focus the neutron beams onto the samples which are to be studied.

ESS aerial view.ESS in Lund. Photo credit Perry Nordeng/ESSRight now, the world’s most powerful research facility for neutron radiation – the European Spallation Source (ESS) – is being built just outside Lund. The facility is the result of an international collaboration among European countries. Neutron radiation can be used to examine various types of material and to study biomolecules such as DNA, lipids and proteins. Financing from the member countries will be used to build and install instruments around the neutron source at ESS.

A dedicated Grazing-Incidence Small-Angle Neutron Scattering (GISANS) instrument will enable researchers to analyse in detail how a neutron beam scatters when reflected from a surface. The SAGA instrument (Surface Analysis using Grazing Angle neutron scattering) will provide unique knowledge of surface layers.

“SAGA will give us a faster and more detailed understanding of the appearance and functioning of cell walls, for example. This will help us develop better medicines, food and packaging, as well as batteries and electronics for a sustainable society”, says Tommy Nylander, professor of physical chemistry at Lund University. Professor Nylander also works at LINXS – Lund Institute of Advanced Neutron and X-ray Science.

The neutron technology that will be made available to ESS will use neutrons generated when protons collide with the metal tungsten. The development of the SAGA instrument will involve researchers from Linköping University coordinating the development of optics that will direct the neutron beam at the samples, as well as the detector that senses how the neutrons scatter during the experiment.Jens Birch.Jens Birch.

“It’s extremely difficult to generate neutron radiation, much harder, for example, than generating X-rays. It’s very important to catch every single neutron, so that nothing goes to waste. Developing these optics is a big opportunity for us to develop something that doesn’t yet exist. It’s a recognition of the fact that we at Linköping University are good at neutron optics research”, says Jens Birch, professor in materials science at the Thin Film Physics division of Linköping University’s Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

Research related to SAGA concerns the interface between physics, chemistry and biology, while HIBEAM creates an environment for collaboration between specialists in magnetic field control and particle and nuclear physics. The two projects are based on internationally prominent research, and are being carried out in collaboration with international and industry partners. Grants from the Swedish Research Council have benefited Swedish participation in ESS by giving Swedish researchers the opportunity to contribute with competitive ideas for new instruments. The initiators of the SAGA project are Lund University, Uppsala University, Malmö University, Linköping University and KTH Royal Institute of Technology. It is estimated that this first phase of planning for proposals for instruments to be installed at ESS will involve approximately three years’ preparation.

Developing these optics is a big opportunity for us to develop something that doesn’t yet exist.
Jens Birch, professor in materials science

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