Crystals of Ag3[Co(CN)6] become shorter and fatter on heating as silver atoms (grey) move apart (right). Neutron scattering helped probe the changes in dimensions and energetics.
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ISIS neutrons are used to probe the stresses and material properties deep inside engineering components and materials.
Engineers are commonly concerned with optimizing the components they design and the materials they use, for example to save weight or ensure safety. When designing a new type of component, one of the major considerations is the stress introduced during the manufacturing process. This must be understood and controlled for the component to behave as it should and not fail prematurely.
There are many methods to measure this stress, but neutrons are unique in the depth they can probe non-destructively beneath a component’s surface. They do this by acting as an “atomic strain gauge” – from the way the neutrons scatter, we can accurately measure the spacing of layers of atoms, which get closer together or further apart depending on whether the material is under compression or tension. At the same time, the scattering pattern gives additional information on the structure of the materials, which can be used to understand how they behave in an engineering context and help in developing new materials and applications.
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