Public Release: 

New instruments at ORNL reactor will lead to dramatic increase in users

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Nov. 15, 2004 - Four new instruments installed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's High Flux Isotope Reactor this year make the facility an even more attractive destination for researchers around the world.

With the additions, the research reactor boasts a total of seven instruments that enable scientists to study magnetic materials, alloys, superconductors and biological materials. The new instruments combined with the recent upgrade of existing instruments and the planned addition of eight more will likely lead to the number of users soaring from 90 to 750 per year by 2008, said David Price, executive director of HFIR.

"HFIR is in a transition that will elevate it to new heights as a Department of Energy user facility," Price said. "Already, HFIR boasts impressive capabilities in the areas of neutron scattering, isotope production, materials irradiation and neutron activation analysis. When the planned work is complete, HFIR will further extend its capabilities and will be the best facility of its type in the nation and one of the two best worldwide."

The new instruments consist of two diffractometers, one reflectometer and a Spallation Neutron Source test station. Researchers use diffractometers to measure atomic and magnetic structure in materials and to examine how materials deform under stress. Scientists use the reflectometer to look at what happens at the surface of materials and are especially interested in magnetization properties as they relate to magnetic data storage. The SNS test station is a temporary instrument to screen components that will be used at the $1.4 billion SNS, which is being built on Chestnut Ridge at ORNL and is scheduled for completion in 2006.

Price noted that the effort at HFIR involves strong collaborations nationally and abroad, as one of the new instruments and a cold triple-axis spectrometer being transferred from Brookhaven National Laboratory form part of a United States-Japan partnership. The triple-axis spectrometer is especially suited to looking at exotic magnetism and superconducting properties of materials.

The addition of these instruments is part of a massive HFIR upgrade that, when completed, will include a new reflector, cooling tower, liquid hydrogen cold source, new and improved instrumentation, a guide hall with four neutron guides and expanded user support space. Instruments connected to the neutron guides provide scientists access to the neutrons produced by the cold source.

While HFIR produces thermal neutrons, which are at room temperature, by 2006 the reactor will also be producing cold neutrons by passing them through a source of liquid hydrogen chilled by liquid helium to a temperature of minus 420 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thermal neutrons have wavelengths of a few tenths of a nanometer, which makes them ideal for studying atomic and magnetic structure and dynamics. Cold neutrons have wavelengths that are up to 10 times longer, which makes them especially suited for probing more complex materials such as polymers, proteins and membranes.

With the upgrades, HFIR boasts neutron beams that are brighter and more intense, making them even better at probing materials. HFIR's steady-state (continuous) neutron scattering capabilities will complement the pulsed neutron scattering capabilities at the SNS, making ORNL the world's premier institution for neutron science.

HFIR and the SNS will jointly issue calls for proposals two times per year. The proposal forms and instructions for proposal submissions will be found on the HFIR and SNS Web sites.

In addition to its neutron scattering role, HFIR produces transplutonium elements used in research, medical and national defense applications in 70 institutions worldwide. HFIR also remains the primary source for californium-252, which is used in the treatment of hundreds of late-stage cancers, and supplies isotopes that are in medical trials at 60 institutions around the world. Also, rhenium-188 from a generator produced at ORNL is used for research and in more than 50 clinical trials throughout the world for various forms of cancer therapy and for coronary restenosis therapy.

Price also noted that Theragenics Corp. has located a $27 million plant in Oak Ridge for the production of enriched stable isotopes, including isotopes that can be used to produce palladium-103 at HFIR for prostate cancer treatment.


ORNL, which is managed by UT-Battelle, employs 1,500 scientists and engineers and is DOE's largest multipurpose science and energy laboratory.

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