Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Cell Culture
Scientific Community
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

New Kind of Microscope uses Neutrons

Published: Friday, October 04, 2013
Last Updated: Friday, October 04, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Device could open up new areas of research on materials and biological samples at tiny scales.

Researchers at MIT, working with partners at NASA, have developed a new concept for a microscope that would use neutrons — subatomic particles with no electrical charge — instead of beams of light or electrons to create high-resolution images.

Among other features, neutron-based instruments have the ability to probe inside metal objects — such as fuel cells, batteries, and engines, even when in use — to learn details of their internal structure. Neutron instruments are also uniquely sensitive to magnetic properties and to lighter elements that are important in biological materials.

The new concept has been outlined in a series of research papers this year, including one published this week in Nature Communications by MIT postdoc Dazhi Liu, research scientist Boris Khaykovich, professor David Moncton, and four others.

Moncton, an adjunct professor of physics and director of MIT’s Nuclear Reactor Laboratory, says that Khaykovich first proposed the idea of adapting a 60-year-old concept for a way of focusing X-rays using mirrors to the challenge of building a high-performing neutron microscope. Until now, most neutron instruments have been akin to pinhole cameras: crude imaging systems that simply let light through a tiny opening. Without efficient optical components, such devices produce weak images with poor resolution.

Beyond the pinhole

“For neutrons, there have been no high-quality focusing devices,” Moncton says. “Essentially all of the neutron instruments developed over a half-century are effectively pinhole cameras.” But with this new advance, he says, “We are turning the field of neutron imaging from the era of pinhole cameras to an era of genuine optics.”

“The new mirror device acts like the image-forming lens of an optical microscope,” Liu adds.

Because neutrons interact only minimally with matter, it’s difficult to focus beams of them to create a telescope or microscope. But a basic concept was proposed, for X-rays, by Hans Wolter in 1952 and later developed, under the auspices of NASA, for telescopes such as the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory (which was designed and is managed by scientists at MIT). Neutron beams interact weakly, much like X-rays, and can be focused by a similar optical system.

It’s well known that light can be reflected by normally nonreflective surfaces, so long as it strikes that surface at a shallow angle; this is the basic physics of a desert mirage. Using the same principle, mirrors with certain coatings can reflect neutrons at shallow angles.

A sharper, smaller device

The actual instrument uses several reflective cylinders nested one inside the other, so as to increase the surface area available for reflection. The resulting device could improve the performance of existing neutron imaging systems by a factor of about 50, the researchers say — allowing for much sharper images, much smaller instruments, or both.

The team initially designed and optimized the concept digitally, then fabricated a small test instrument as a proof-of-principle and demonstrated its performance using a neutron beam facility at MIT’s Nuclear Reactor Laboratory. Later work, requiring a different spectrum of neutron energies, was carried out at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Such a new instrument could be used to observe and characterize many kinds of materials and biological samples; other nonimaging methods that exploit the scattering of neutrons might benefit as well. Because the neutron beams are relatively low-energy, they are “a much more sensitive scattering probe,” Moncton says, for phenomena such as “how atoms or magnetic moments move in a material.”

The researchers next plan to build an optimized neutron-microscopy system in collaboration with NIST, which already has a major neutron-beam research facility. This new instrument is expected to cost a few million dollars.

Moncton points out that a recent major advance in the field was the construction of a $1.4 billion facility that provides a tenfold increase in neutron flux. “Given the cost of producing the neutron beams, it is essential to equip them with the most efficient optics possible,” he says.

Roger Pynn, a materials scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who was not involved in this research, says, “I expect it to lead to a number of breakthroughs in neutron imaging. … It offers the potential for some really new applications of neutron scattering — something that we haven’t seen for quite a while.”


Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,500+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 3,700+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Capturing Cell Growth in 3-D
Spinout’s microfluidics device better models how cancer and other cells interact in the body.
Monday, August 17, 2015
Precisely Engineering 3-D Brain Tissues
New design technique could enable personalized medicine, studies of brain wiring.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Tracking Stem Cell Reprogramming
Biologists reveal genes key to development of pluripotency, in single cells.
Friday, September 14, 2012
Picking Apart the Cell’s Most Complex Structure
One of the most important structures in a cell is the nuclear pore complex — a tiny yet complicated channel through which information flows in and out of the cell’s nucleus, directing all other cell activity.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Scientific News
The Mending Tissue - Cellular Instructions for Tissue Repair
NUS-led collaborative study identifies universal mechanism that explains how tissue shape regulates physiological processes such as wound healing and embryo development.
Most Complete Human Brain Model to Date is a ‘Brain Changer’
Once licensed, model likely to accelerate study of Alzheimer’s, autism, more.
Capturing Cell Growth in 3-D
Spinout’s microfluidics device better models how cancer and other cells interact in the body.
Protein That Turns Moles Into Melanoma Cancer Identified
Moles can turn into cancer, if the genetic factors recently identified by a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania were not present in humans.
Scientists Grow Human Serotonin Neurons in Petri Dish
The advance could facilitate the discovery of new antidepressants and drugs for illnesses involving serotonin.
Study Details Powerful Molecular Promoter of Colon Cancers
Findings show how suppression of microRNA family of molecules leads to intestinal tumors.
From Pluripotency to Totipotency
Studies results provide new elements for the understanding of pluripotency and could increase the efficiency of reprogramming somatic cells to be used for applications in regenerative medicine.
Cancer Treatment Models get Real
Researchers at Rice Univ. and Univ. of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have developed a way to mimic the conditions under which cancer tumors grow in bones.
Potential Treatment for Muscular Dystrophy
A new method for producing muscle cells could offer a better model for studying muscle diseases, such as muscular dystrophy, and for testing potential treatment options.
Protein Related to Long Term Traumatic Brain Injury Complications Discovered
NIH-study shows protein found at higher levels in military members who have suffered multiple TBIs.
SELECTBIO

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,500+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,700+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FREE!