Slow neutron spectroscopy

Slow neutron spectroscopy

The use of beams of slow neutrons, from nuclear reactors or nuclear accelerators, in studies of the structure or structural dynamics of solid, liquid, or gaseous matter. Studies of the chemical or magnetic structure of substances are usually referred to under the term neutron diffraction, while studies of atomic and magnetic dynamics go under the terms slow neutron spectroscopy, inelastic neutron scattering, or simply neutron spectroscopy. See Neutron diffraction, Particle accelerator, Spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction

In a neutron spectroscopy experiment, a beam of neutrons is scattered by a specimen and the scattered neutrons are detected at various angles to the initial beam. From these measurements, the linear momenta of the incoming and outgoing neutrons (and the vector momentum changes experienced by individual neutrons) can be computed. In general, just those neutrons which have been scattered once only by the specimen are useful for analysis; the specimen must be “thin” with respect to neutron scattering power as well as to neutron absorption. In practice, the experiments are usually intensity-limited, since even the most powerful reactors or accelerators are sources of weak luminosity when, as here, individual slow neutrons are to be considered as quanta of radiation. See Neutron

Neutron spectroscopy requires slow neutrons, with energies of the order of neutrons in equilibrium with matter at room temperature, or approximately 0.025 eV. The corresponding de Broglie wavelengths are approximately 0.2 nanometer, of the order of interatomic spacings in solids or liquids. The fast neutrons emitted in nuclear or slow fission reactions can be slowed down to thermal velocities in matter which is transparent to neutrons and which contains light elements, such as hydrogen, carbon, and beryllium, by a process of diffusion and elastic (billiard-ball) scattering known as neutron moderation. By selection of those diffusing neutrons which travel in a certain restricted range of directions (collimation), a beam of thermal and near-thermal neutrons can be obtained. See Quantum mechanics

The bulk of the observations can be accounted for in terms of scattering of semiclassical neutron waves by massive, moving-point scatterers in the forms of atomic nuclei and their bound electron clouds. The spatial structure of the scatterers, time-averaged over the duration of the experiment, gives rise to the elastic scattering from the specimen that is studied in neutron diffraction; the spatial motions of the scatterers give rise to the Doppler-shifted inelastic scattering involved in slow neutron spectroscopy.

Just as (slow) neutron diffraction is the most powerful available scientific tool for study of the magnetic structure of matter on an atomic scale, so slow neutron spectroscopy is the most powerful tool for study of the atomic magnetic and nuclear dynamics of matter in all its phases. The direct nature of the analysis has in some cases added considerable support to the conceptual structure of solid-state and liquid-state physics and thus to the confidence with which the physics is applied. For example, neutron spectroscopy has confirmed the existence of phonons, magnons, and the quasiparticles (rotons) of liquid helium II. Detailed information has been obtained on the lattice vibrations of most of the crystalline elements and numerous simple compounds, on the atomic dynamics of many simple liquids, on the dynamics of liquid helium in different phases, and on the atomic magnetic dynamics of a great variety of ferromagnetic, ferrimagnetic, antiferromagnetic, and modulated magnetic substances.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Physics. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.