Neutron techniques have distinct benefits:
- Neutron studies can range from the distances between atoms (0.1 nanometres) to those associated with the structures of large molecular arrays (over 500 nanometres).
- Neutrons are penetrating enough to reach deep inside a sample.
- They are non-destructive so can be used on delicate biological samples.
- Neutrons are very sensitive to light atoms such as hydrogen.
- Atoms such as hydrogen, in a selected sample component, can be substituted by a variant with a different number of neutrons in the nucleus - an isotope - which scatters differently and so picks out that component.
- The structure of surfaces and interfaces can be revealed by bouncing neutrons off them - the technique of neutron reflectometry.
- Because neutrons have a magnetic moment, they are sensitive to the often subtle electronic structures of magnetic and superconducting materials.
Neutron experiments can be used to study:
- Advanced materials such as catalysts, hydrogen-storage materials, battery materials
- Nano-materials and structures such as magnetic thin films used in computer applications
- Molecular materials such as pharmaceuticals
- Compounds with exotic magnetic and electronic properties, including high-temperature superconductors
- Engineering stresses and strains in components and welds
- Plastics, detergents, food products and paints
- Proteins, DNA and cell membranes
- Complex biomedical materials
- Disordered materials and liquids
- Rocks and minerals – terrestrial and planetary geology
- Archaeological artefacts