Newswise — OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—A group of 13 Ph.D. students from 3 partnering universities—the University of Missouri, Indiana University, and North Carolina State University—gathered at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in April for an intensive course in how to apply neutron scattering to their studies of materials science and biological systems. The workshop emphasized hands-on use of instruments at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source and High Flux Isotope Reactor with the goal of showing researchers in diverse fields the benefits of probing materials with neutrons. The event was co-hosted by ORNL and the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program as part of its five-year, $3 million project, “Neutron Scattering for the Science and Engineering of the 21st Century.”

“Neutrons are a powerful and unique tool for understanding how our world works, but their application is still relatively new in many areas of science,” said Greg Smith, Structure and Dynamics of Soft Matter group leader and ORNL lead for the IGERT workshop. “Through partnerships such as this effort with NSF, we improve the chances that scientists use all the options available to advance their research.”

The workshop series, the first of which was held in 2013 at ORNL, was led by Professor Haskell Taub, a Professor of Physics at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and the director of the IGERT neutron scattering project.

Taub said, “The project’s principal mission is training the next generation of ‘sophisticated users’ of our nation’s premier neutron scattering facilities.”

As part of the overall program, IGERT trainees participate in courses and research internships that promote team efforts in neutron scattering research that cultivate NSF’s philosophy of bringing interdisciplinary teams of researchers together to address science challenges.

“IGERT teaches you how to apply neutron scattering to a wide range of scientific problems,” said Matthew Connolly, an IGERT alumnus and National Research Council (NRC) post-doctoral fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colo. “I am spending my time at a national laboratory seeking out projects to find ways to apply neutrons.”

While at ORNL for five days, the 13 trainees listened to lectures from neutron science experts, shadowed instrument scientists, and explored the HFIR and SNS facilities in order to learn how the latest developments in neutron scattering techniques are advancing important new science.

Taub said this year’s workshop had some new features as well.

“We were excited to have alumni of the IGERT project, who now hold postdoctoral positions at national labs, participate this time,” said Taub. “We had three alumni presentations throughout the week, plus five of the trainees who have done neutron experiments at ORNL or NIST shared their experiences with getting beam time, conducting research, and analyzing their results. It was valuable for the students to hear directly from their peers.”

Ultimately, the workshop coordinators hope to see proposals for beam time at HFIR and SNS from this group of students.

“We saw some promising work from the trainees while they were here,” said Smith. “There’s a lot of potential for great science among this group.”

In addition to lectures and hands-on experiences, the workshop also featured tours of HFIR and SNS, as well as the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, and the historical Graphite Reactor.