What are neutrons and why do we use them?
Before we can understand neutrons, we need to understand atoms. Everything in the world is made up of atoms: the air, trees, cars—even your body is made up of atoms. Atoms are so small that you need a very powerful magnifying glass to see them. There are 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms in a single drop of water!
Even though atoms are very small, they are made up of even smaller particles. Every atom has a nucleus (or center) made up of even smaller particles called protons and neutrons. A neutron is one of the fundamental particles that make up matter. Protons and neutrons each have about the same mass, and both can exist as free particles away from the nucleus. In the universe, neutrons are abundant, making up more than half of all visible matter, and they have properties that make them ideal for certain types of research.
In this exhibit, you can “become a neutron,” following the path from the ion source to the science instrument at the Spallation Neutron Source as ORNL scientists describe how neutrons are used to study materials. See how Play-Doh and a simple water bottle demonstrate how neutrons are useful to scientists because when they are released from the nucleus of an atom, they can travel inside other materials without damaging them. Once inside, the neutrons then act like a magnifying glass that allows scientists to see the internal structure of that material.
Neutrons just “see things” differently. Neutron research can beneﬁt every aspect of our lives—the possibilities are endless!
Visit the "Become a Neutron" trailer to learn more about how neutrons are useful to scientists!