28 Jan 2009



The scientific programme within the Crystallography Group covers a broad range of disciplines, from fundamental studies of the structures of materials at the atomic level through to understanding the origins of their important technological properties.




Within the area of bioscience, studies performed using the Crystallography Group’s instruments include determination of the atomic resolution structure of small molecules using single crystal diffraction, high resolution powder diffraction studies of pharmaceuticals and neutron imaging of biological systems, including water uptake in plant roots.


Chemistry applications within the Crystallography Group include detailed studies of bonding mechanisms within solids, the effects of pressure on molecular packing and time-resolved studies of chemical or electrochemical reactions. Of particular importance is the use of Pair Distribution Function methods to probe short-range disorder, which often has a profound influence on the bulk material properties.

Cultural Heritage

The highly penetrating and non-destructive nature of the neutron diffraction technique has been extensively used to probe the crystallographic parameters, texture and phase content of large specimens, as a unique probe of the manufacturing methods, provenance and authenticity of historical artefacts. In the near future, the availability of complementary neutron imaging capabilities on IMAT will offer unique capabilities in this area.

Earth and Planetary Science

Neutron diffraction provides a unique tool for the understanding of both surface and deep Earth processes. For example, neutrons allows studies of hydrated mineral phases to be performed, whilst the ability to probe materials over a wide range on pressure-temperature space on PEARL is a powerful tool in understanding the Earth’s constituent mineral phases. Further afield, studies of various molecular ices have also shed light on the behaviour of the solar system’s “icy-moons”.


Neutron diffraction, principally on the ENGIN-X instrument, is used as an “atomic strain gauge”, with accurate measurement of the spacing of the atomic layers used to scan the distribution of compressive or tensile stresses deep within bulk engineering components. Such information is vital to determine optimal manufacturing processes, component lifetimes, failure mechanisms and to understand how the material behaves within a real engineering context.

Materials Science

Detailed characterisation of the crystal structure is often essential to understand technologically important mechanical, optical, electrical and magnetic properties. As an example, neutron diffraction studies are a powerful approach to understand the behaviour of materials for energy production and storage, due to their sensitivity to the locations of H and O2- ions (e.g. within fuel cell electrolytes) and Li+ ions (e.g. within rechargeable battery electrodes).


Physics studies within the Crystallography Group include important topics such as magnetic ordering within solids, complex structural/magnetic phase transitions, superconductivity and semiconductors. Many of these projects underpin research in technologically important areas, as the materials have potential applications within electronic devices and as computer components.