The directional ordering of an assembly of nuclear spins I with respect to some axis in space. Under normal conditions nuclei are not oriented; that is, all directions in space are equally probable. For a system of nuclear spins with rotational symmetry about an axis, the degree of orientation is completely characterized by the relative populations am of the 2I + 1 magnetic sublevels m (= I, I - 1,…, -I).
Nuclear orientation can be achieved in various ways. The most obvious way is to modify the energies of the 2I + 1 magnetic sublevels so as to remove their degeneracy and thereby change the populations of these sublevels. The spin degeneracy can be removed by a magnetic field interacting with the nuclear magnetic dipole moment, or by an inhomogeneous electric field interacting with the nuclear electric quadrupole moment. Significant differences in the populations of the sublevels can be established by cooling the nuclear sample to low temperatures. This means of producing nuclear orientation is called the static method. In contrast, there is the dynamic method, which is related to optical pumping in gases. There are other ways to produce oriented nuclei; for example, in a nuclear reaction such as the capture of polarized neutrons (produced by magnetic scattering) by unoriented nuclei. See Dynamic nuclear polarization, Optical pumping
Oriented nuclei have been used to measure nuclear properties, for example, magnetic dipole and electric quadrupole moments, spins, parities, and mixing ratios of nuclear states. Oriented nuclei have been used to examine some of the fundamental properties of nuclear forces, for example, nonconservation of parity in the weak interaction. Measurement of hyperfine fields, electric-field gradients, and other properties relating to the environment of the nucleus have been made by using oriented nuclei. Nuclear orientation thermometry is one of the few sources of a primary temperature scale at low temperatures. Oriented nuclear targets used in conjunction with beams of polarized and unpolarized particles have proved very useful in examining certain aspects of the nuclear force. See Low-temperature thermometry, Nuclear moments, Nuclear structure, Parity (quantum mechanics)