Neutron microscope could aid creation of high-tech materials

A new neutron super microscope that will help pave the way for new high-tech materials is under construction in the UK.

The device, called Larmor, will help scientists develop materials for the fields of engineering, food, health and the natural environment once it is installed at ISIS, the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC’s) neutron facility in Oxfordshire.

Larmor, which will be part funded by a consortium of Dutch universities led by Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), will use beams of neutrons to see the exact positions and movements of atoms inside materials with greater accuracy than existing equipment.

This could aid the creation of high-tech materials for electronic equipment and help develop faster-charging lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles.

‘You can also use the instrument in the study of new molecules that can transport medication to the exact location of a tumour, or for improving the composition of food, such as margarine,’ said Prof Katia Pappas, research co-ordinator from TU Delft, in a statement.

Three Dutch universities, including TU Delft, supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), will work with ISIS to develop the microscope. UK scientists will provide a high-intensity small-angle scattering instrument, while the Netherlands team will provide components to control the neutron beam polarisation.

‘Recent collaborations between ISIS, TU Delft and NWO have already resulted in the construction of the Offspec reflectometer on the second target station at ISIS,’ said ISIS director Dr Uschi Steigenberger.

‘The new Larmor instrument that we will build together will significantly extend the concepts used on Offspec to deliver new experimental capabilities to the scientific and industrial user communities.’

The Netherlands funding adds to the £4.5m provided by the UK government as part of a package to build four devices for the Phase 2 instrument suite at the second target station at ISIS.

The STFC said that several companies have expressed a strong interest in using the instrument, including Tata Steel, Unilever and bearings manufacturer SKF Group.