Subatomic particles called neutrons are poised to play a big role in fighting HIV, slowing global warming, and improving manufacturing processes. The reason: They are the focus of a process called neutron scattering that provides unprecedented ways to study the chemistry of a wide range of important materials, including coal and biological cells, according to a fascinating article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS’ weekly newsmagazine: “Making Use of Neutrons.”
C&EN Associate Editor Jyllian Kemsley notes that neutrons have properties useful for studying materials. Neutrons are special because they can penetrate deeper into samples than some other probes and can interact with atoms in ways that other particles can’t. This gives scientists much more information about the structure and activity of materials than some current tools.
Using neutron scattering, scientists have studied how certain fluids behave under stress, which could lead to improved manufacturing processes and products. The method also has been used by scientists to study biological processes. All three of the neutron user facilities located at government labs in the United States are in various phases of expansion. “With greater knowledge of neutrons’ capabilities and increased availability, scientific progress undoubtedly awaits,” the article notes.