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John Cameron
IU Cyclotron Facility

Last modified: Monday, October 6, 2003

Neutron-scattering project receives $6.4 million in funding

New facility will aid development efforts in Indiana

Two new grants from the National Science Foundation totaling $6.4 million over three years will enable the Indiana University Cyclotron Facility to construct a neutron-scattering facility that will make possible a broad program of nanostructural studies. In addition to training students, the facility, which is called LENS (Low Energy Neutron Source), is expected to be an important part of research, development and commercialization efforts in the health and related manufacturing industries in Indiana.

"Initial partners in the LENS proposals included Eli Lilly and Company and Cummins Inc.," said IUCF Director John Cameron. "The connections forged with industry will be invaluable in identifying the most important industrial applications and marketing them. Commercial activities could eventually be as much as half of what the facility does."

The start-up of the first phase of LENS, including research, is planned for the end of 2004. The full facility will be in operation two years later.

Additional funding for LENS is being sought from the state government's 21st Century Fund, and surplus equipment worth millions of dollars is being donated to the project by the U.S. Air Force and Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Los Alamos equipment was part of President Ronald Reagan's anti-missile program called "Star Wars."

A small company, PartTec Inc., has been formed in Bloomington to facilitate the transfer of neutron technologies to other institutions, as well as to export them to nations interested in developing neutron science programs with limited capital investment. PartTec is incorporated in the state of Indiana and already has one Small Business Technology Transfer grant and two consulting contracts, Cameron said. The federal Small Business Technology Transfer program provides funds to small businesses for cooperative research and development on viable products, services or technologies. The research and development are conducted jointly by the business and a research institution.

Beams of slow-moving neutrons are a highly effective way to probe the structures of molecules, and such beams have been applied to a wide array of problems. Because of their unique sensitivity to hydrogen atoms, for example, neutrons can be used to precisely locate them in molecules. Large biological molecules contain numerous hydrogen atoms, and neutrons can highlight a nucleic acid or a protein in a chromosome and give detailed information about its structure.

"The study of structures on the nanometer-to-micron scale is essential for progress in a wide variety of research fields. However, only a handful of neutron scattering research facilities are in operation in this country, and few students are going into the field," said David Baxter, IU professor of physics and LENS project leader. LENS is designed to help remedy that situation.

"We will design, construct and operate LENS as a regional facility for research and training of faculty and students. This is intended as a model to be duplicated at other research universities and used to develop a network of slow neutron sources across the United States at reasonable cost," Cameron said.

Neutron scattering has been identified as an area of national importance for defense, medicine and science, and this has led to a national policy of establishing a global leadership role for the United States in neutron sciences. However, there has been little investment in education and training to date.

"To make full use of the scientific potential of the $1.5 billion Spallation Neutron Source, which will be the most intense pulsed neutron source in the world when it is completed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2006, it is important to educate scientists in neutron techniques," said Michael Snow, IU associate professor of physics. "An essential part of the solution to this problem is to get more neutron sources into the hands of researchers and students at universities, where faculty can teach students about neutron production and the use of neutrons for solving scientific problems."

Hugh van Horn, the LENS program manager at NSF, said, "LENS represents a good synergy between NSF's traditional support for university-scale research and the U.S. Department of Energy's support for national-scale facilities."

"IU's Cyclotron Facility is the largest single scientific facility in the state," said Michael A. McRobbie, IU vice president for research. "The LENS project builds on this unique resource by combining research and development for discovery and commercialization with education and training for the next generation of scientists."