ISIS facility at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
ISIS facility at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

Neutron scattering and materials science in the UK have been closely intertwined since the first research reactors were built at Harwell over 50 years ago.

Neutron scattering gives unique information on the performance of materials at the nanoscale, knowledge that is vital to the work of research groups across the United Kingdom and overseas in disciplines ranging from engineering, through physics to biology.

Demand for beamtime at the original twenty two ISIS neutron instruments is now so high that we currently have to turn down many extremely worthwhile research proposals.

The ISIS second target station represents a major step forward in the UK's materials science capabilities. It will enable us to study a wider range of systems and welcome scientists who have never used neutrons before. There are seven new instruments in the first phase, with funds already allocated for a further five. We hope to be up to the full complement of 18 instruments in the second target station by 2016.

A growing community of users A facility is nothing without its users and we are proud to have nurtured a growing community of scientists from all around the world. We regularly draw on this user community for advice, and feedback over the last 10 years made it clear that new challenges would come from the areas of advanced materials, soft matter and bioscience. We are tackling these challenges with the ISIS second target station, which provides enhanced capability with long-wavelength low energy-neutrons.

Advanced materials The possibilities for material scientists at ISIS are now fantastic.

More new materials have been synthesised in the past twenty years than in the rest of history, and neutrons will continue to be an extremely effective way of studying them. When it comes to studying magnetic properties of materials, neutrons often provide the only viable option.

Our research will continue to build up a wealth of fundamental knowledge about these interactions at the nanoscale. At the same time it will unearth new applications such as magnetic recording devices in the rapidly expanding area of spintronics, where the magnetism of electrons is manipulated in addition to the charge.

This is a perfect example of why blue skies research is not in conflict with research into technologies which are closer to market. They are two sides of the same coin. At ISIS we conduct fundamental research that shapes the technologies of tomorrow.

Soft matter Research interests are increasingly motivated by the commercial significance of products that are complex mixtures of components. Many industrial processes involve the flow and processing of soft matter and an understanding of how these substances behave under various conditions.

Our new reflectometers are going to be extremely useful in probing polymers, surfactants, and colloids. Inter was the first instrument to receive neutrons from our second target this summer. It will study a wide variety of systems, including the behaviour of biosurfactants, the interfaces between thin polymer films in organic LED screens, and the way drug molecules interact with membranes in the body.

Bioscience Biological and life sciences are an extremely vibrant area of scientific activity. Dynamic areas of research, including drug creation and delivery, metabolic pathways, processing effects, pesticide activity, artificial bio-synthetic materials and virus interactions, are all closely linked to an understanding of the structures of membranes, membrane-protein interactions, the structure of macromolecular complexes and bio-compatibility.

Neutron scattering can give low-resolution information about large features such as lipids surrounding a macromolecule. It can also provide high-resolution information about water solvent structure, hydrogen binding and precise active site geometry. This is why we are expecting more and more biologists to begin using our facility.

The future of ISIS The second target station will keep the UK at the forefront of neutron research. It will enable scientists to make further breakthroughs in materials research for the next generation of applications. I look forward to welcoming you to ISIS soon.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(08)70259-1