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Building on success

When researchers at Ames Laboratory developed a compact laboratory furnace, it marked a huge leap forward in the ability to understand what happens to a material's crystal structure as the material is heated and cooled. That success has led to the building of two additional furnaces for other DOE laboratories and a refined design intended to make the furnace easier to operate.

Used in conjunction with a powerful X-ray beam, such as that produced by the synchrotron at Argonne National Laboratory's Advanced Photon Source, the furnace allows researchers to capture in a few seconds the patterns created as the crystal structure of the material diffracts the beam. By studying changes in the diffraction patterns as the material is heated and cooled in the furnace, scientists quickly gain an understanding of what happens when a material transitions from one type of solid to another or from solid to liquid and back again.

The original furnace is being used at the sector of the APS facility operated by the Midwest Universities Collaborative Access Team. According to scientist Matt Kramer, one of the developers of the furnace, two copies of that furnace are being built by Ames Lab's Engineering Services Group.

"One is being built for Systems Research and Instrumentation, which is the developmental CAT for Argonne National Laboratory," says Kramer. "The other one is for the High Temperature Materials Research Laboratory at Oak Ridge National Laboratory."

The furnace's fame isn't limited to this country. Kramer's group designed and built an even smaller unit for the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, located in Grenoble, France. That collaborative effort was aided by ESRF researcher Larry Margulies, a former Ames Lab graduate student who worked with Kramer, senior materials scientist Bill McCallum, and assistant metallurgist Kevin Dennis on the original furnace design.

Even with the furnace's success, Kramer's group is looking to improve upon it by making it quicker to set up and easier to use.

"With the present furnace, it takes a substantial amount of time, up to 36 hours, to get things properly lined up," he says. "The new design we're working on will be more modular and make it easier to position the sample in relationship to the beam, so we can spend more time doing research instead of setting things up. Also, if we need to swap out components, we don't have to go through the entire alignment process again."

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