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What can be investigated with neutrons?

Science case Science case "This picture provides a simple illustration of how neutron source may form the centre of a complex of activities. Around the central core, there is a ring of specific spheres that are more or less dependent on the activities that are conducted at the neutron spallation source. Outside the ring of specific spheres, there are several examples of technical applications and industries that can be considered to be more or less directly related to these spheres." (ESFRI REPORT)

Information about an extremely broad range of materials, which could not be obtained by other means, can be obtained using neutrons.

The wavelength of neutrons is similar to the distances between atoms and molecules in liquids and solids – condensed matter. This means that when neutrons interact with matter, be it a regular array of atoms or molecules in a crystal lattice, the neutron waves are reflected, or scattered, off the atomic nuclei.

The diffraction pattern resulting from neutron scattering can be recorded as a series of peaks of the scattered neutron intensity, which provides information about the position of the atoms and the distance between them.

Different methods provide different ways of achieving scattering patterns, and can be applied to different kinds of materials.

Neutrons play an important role in the advancement of research into many different areas of science, such as biology, materials science, chemistry, particle physics as well as engineering and medicine.

Scientific Disciplines

Neutron scattering techniques can solve a number of scientific problems in the following scientific fields:

  • Biology
  • Biophysics
  • Chemistry
  • Magnetism
  • Material science
  • Particle physics
  • Soft matter

To learn more about the role of neutrons in each of these scientific disciplines, click here.

Grand Challenges

Neutron research gives insights into some of the most serious challenges society is facing, such as:

  • Earth sciences
  • Energy
  • Environment
  • Heritage
  • Information technology
  • Medicine
  • Nanotechnology

To learn more about the role of neutrons in each of these grand challenges, click here.


An example: Neutron Coffee

Neutron coffee at PSI Neutron coffee at PSI

Dynamic Radiography

Boiling coffee with a moka. A movie made with neutron images that shows the coffee making process. The movie was made by A. Kaestner at the cold neutron imaging beam line ICON at the Paul Scherrer Institute. The movie is four times faster than in real time.

To watch other video animations of what neutrons can see, please click here.

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