Photo of ORNL Science Fair demonstration

Become a Neutron

What is a neutron and why does it matter?

Neutrons are tiny subatomic particles found in almost every atom in the universe. In fact, they are so abundant; they make up more than half of all visible matter!

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory use neutrons in their research to discover information about the positions, motions, and magnetic properties inside materials such as solids, liquids, and gasses.

Scattered... for science!

In an experimental method called neutron diffraction, or neutron scattering, scientists blast neutrons at sample materials. Some neutrons pass right through, but others “bounce” off of the atomic nuclei, like colliding balls in a game of pool.

Using special detectors, scientists can then learn details about the nature of materials ranging from liquid crystals to superconducting ceramics, from proteins to plastics, and from metals to metallic glass magnets.

Neutron scattering helps scientists answer big questions about the fundamental nature of materials at the atomic scale. By answering big science questions, neutrons help spur innovations that improve our daily lives: more powerful computers, more effective drugs, longer lasting batteries, and improved armor for the military.

World-class research

ORNL hosts two of the world’s most powerful sources of neutrons: the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) and the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS). These world-class facilities attract thousands of scientists each year, who travel from all over the world to Oak Ridge to conduct their research.

Become a neutron!

In this exhibit, guests “become a neutron” by following the path from the ion source to the science instruments at the Spallation Neutron Source as ORNL scientists offer guidance along the way.

The exhibit features a sample environment area where visitors learn how scientists apply extreme temperatures, pressures and magnetism in order to study materials better through neutron scattering.

Restored to normal size, guests will leave the exhibit as a neutron scientist after visiting the experiment simulator where they will select a sample, collect data, and visualize the results!

The subatomic adventure awaits!