Inauguration of new instrument IMAT and a celebration of the Italian connection

Monday 10 October 2016

Egyptian artefact analysed on IMAT.

Valentina Turina, Museo Egizio di Torino and Matilde Borla, Soprintendenza Archeologia Piemonte, Italy adjusting an Egyptian vase mounted on the IMAT instrument. Credit: STFC
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Today sees IMAT, the latest ISIS instrument to come online, officially inaugurated in a joint celebration with the Italian Research Council, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR). IMAT will provide new capabilities in 3D neutron imaging and diffraction and is expected to have a wide range of applications including materials science, engineering, cultural heritage and earth science.

The instrument was officially opened in the presence of H. E. Pasquale Terracciano, Italian Ambassador in London, by Dr Corrado Spinella from the CNR and ISIS Director Robert McGreevy. The partnership between Italy and ISIS dates back over 30 years, with Italy making significant contributions to several ISIS instruments – most recently developing the CCD camera system which will play a key role in the imaging capabilities of IMAT.

The new imaging capabilities of IMAT will enhance understanding in many scientific areas, but cultural heritage will be an early beneficiary. Although still in commissioning, IMAT is already being used by Italian researchers to capture previously elusive details about Stradivari's violins and Egyptian grave goods. The use of neutrons to study significant artefacts from our past is just one result of the long standing partnership between ISIS and Italy, with previous studies including the Ghiberti Heads – sculptures of prophets dating back to the Renaissance.

Ambassador Paquale Terracciano said, “This is a flagship European partnership of which both the UK and Italy can be proud. We look forward to the continued success of this partnership far into the future.”

Dr Corrado Spinella, Director of the Department of Physics and Technology of Matter at the CNR, said, “It is wonderful to mark this milestone in the relationship between ISIS and Italy. Continued access to ISIS will be a key element of the Italian neutron research infrastructure strategy.”

Dr Corrado Spinella, CNR

IMAT was officially opened in the presence of H. E. Pasquale Terracciano, Italian Ambassador in London, by Dr Corrado Spinella from the CNR and ISIS Director, Prof Robert McGreevy. Credit: STFC
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The long-standing relationship between the CNR and ISIS has provided significant benefits to both the UK and Italy. In addition to their involvement with IMAT, CNR scientists have made significant contributions to many of the instruments at ISIS, including Vesuvio, Prisma, Tosca, Sandals and Ines on Target Station 1, and Let and Nimrod on Target Station 2. The detectors for ChipIR – an instrument for analysing the effect of cosmic rays on electronic devices, which will come online in early 2017 – were also developed in partnership with the CNR. In return, over 250 papers have been published by Italian researchers using ISIS just in the past five years.

Today, Professor Carla Andreani from the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy, and a team from Italy are investigating the craftsmanship of Stradivari’s violins using neutron beams. The team wish to explore how the millimetre thick wood was used to construct the instrument, and how small details of the violins’ shape influence the sound production. As the sinuosities make some parts of the violin difficult to access with standard analytical techniques, IMAT offers a non-destructive method in which the entire instrument can be imaged. These experiments form part of a wider project that aims for the integrated analysis of musical instruments.

Scientists from Italy are also using ISIS instruments to study Egyptian grave goods discovered in 1906 in the tomb of master architect Kha. Kha oversaw the construction of tombs of the kings of ancient Egypt between 1425 and 1353 BC. The scientists are investigating five bronze artefacts taken from Kha’s tomb on IMAT, as neutrons have a high penetration power in metals. The team hope to find clues about the methods used by ancient Egyptians to make the bronze vases and pots, as well as the state of their conservation.

Dr Tino Minniti, Instrument Scientist on IMAT, who operated the new instrument for the Egyptian grave goods study and processed the 3D neutron data sets, says, “It was a very pleasing and rewarding experience for me that I could support the first IMAT users on this important Kha tomb project, after having spent so many weeks beforehand to get the new equipment ready."

Professor Robert McGreevy, director of ISIS, says, “We are delighted to be able to celebrate the inauguration of IMAT with our colleagues from CNR and Dr Terracciano. Our partnership with Italy has brought extensive benefits not just to our two countries but the wider scientific community. The studies taking place today will provide important insights into our cultural heritage. Longer term, we expect to see IMAT enable advances in a wide range of applications, from aerospace, civil engineering and power generation to earth science and agriculture.”


The IMAT beamline is a new instrument at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s ISIS Neutron and Muon Source. It will be the first instrument at ISIS capable of producing 3-dimensional images, revealing the inner workings of components across a wide range of scientific and technological areas.

The images produced by IMAT will have applications in the areas of aerospace and transportation, civil engineering, power generation, earth sciences, cultural heritage and agriculture. As neutrons can penetrate deeply into materials, IMAT will be capable of producing images of the internal structure of large engineering components. It will reveal, for example, the passage of lubricants and fuel through engine components, and the internal stresses and strains inside welded components.

IMAT has been built using funds provided by the UK government, together with imaging systems developed in collaboration with Italian scientists funded through the Italian Research Council (CNR), and a neutron detector developed by a group at Berkeley, USA.

Dr Genoveva Burca, Instrument Scientist for IMAT added:

“IMAT is a thermal and cold neutron facility for imaging and diffraction applications which is built on the ISIS second target station (TS-2) at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, U.K. IMAT will combine imaging and diffraction techniques on one beamline, a possibility which is not currently available at any other single instrument. The combination of diffraction and imaging on one beamline will enable more advanced studies on materials than possible if separate beamlines were used. By taking advantage of the Bragg edges in the energy-dependant neutron cross-section and by exploiting the capability of a pulsed source to select optimal energies, materials which are not visible with the standard neutron radiography can be made visible or transparent. Hence, while microstructure properties (e.g. crystallographic texture) can be mapped with high resolution in transmission mode, the diffraction data will be required to determine the complete orientation distribution function. IMAT will be set-up for in-situ studies and processing, for example texture measurements in combination with strain measurements at non-ambient conditions (e.g. at elevated temperatures or under load), in-situ sintering or welding. The concurrent acquisition of transmission and diffraction data to study irreversible processes will be a major advantage of the instrument. The approach will allow investigations of samples by imaging followed by a detailed diffraction analysis of the regions of interest by selecting any point within the 2D or 3D sample. By adding sample geometry acquired through imaging data, the diffraction scans benefit in terms of positioning accuracy, in order to obtain more focussed information about the stress state or the material’s composition at a particular point which often cannot be obtained by diffraction alone.”

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