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Europe Leads Neutron Research Worldwide -
Downturn Threatened due to Closure of Neutron Sources

17 May 2018

Europe’s neutron research facilities rank highest internationally: this is the result of a  study undertaken by Forschungszentrum Jülich, examining the number and quality of publications based on neutron scattering experiments undertaken from 2005 to 2015. However, Asian countries, especially China, are gaining ground. The imminent decommissioning of neutron sources in Europe could endanger the leading position of the continent, despite the current construction of the European Spallation Source, warn the authors. In order to avoid this, they strongly recommend maintaining the existing broad spectrum of neutron scattering available in Europe and finding new ways to offer access to neutron sources, for example, using compact accelerator-based sources.

During the period under review, from 2005 to 2015, the authors of the study found a total of 42,689 publications based on experiments undertaken in neutron laboratories. The number of publications in this period indicated a rising trend year on year. The quality of the publications also improved, a fact that the researchers were able to determine from the increasing number of publications in journals with a higher impact factor.

Neutron ScatteringThe map illustrates the quality of neutron research publications compared worldwide using the average impact factor of the journal in which the article was published: from dark green (publications with a high average impact factor) down to dark red (publications with a low average impact factor). For countries coloured grey, little or no data was available.
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich

A total of 52% of the publications examined originated from Europe, 20% from Asia or Oceania and 19% from the USA. The majority of the European papers came from France (8,091, also including publications of the Institut Laue-Langevin, a European neutron centre) followed closely by Germany (8,041). Whereas the number of publications in Europe and Japan, the country in Asia with the most neutron publications during the time period in question, barely altered, the number originating from China has almost doubled. Possible reasons for this include the construction of numerous new neutron sources in China as well as the publication of many articles by Chinese researchers working at European facilities.

Europe’s strong position in neutron research relies on a wide selection of neutron sources. Worldwide, the highest number of publications has originated mainly from the Institut Laue-Langevin in Grenoble. Nevertheless, smaller sources are just as important: “Small and mid-sized sources have almost an 80% share of the research worldwide”, explains Dr. Thomas Gutberlet from the Jülich Centre for Neutron Science, one of the authors of the study. Furthermore, the training of young scientists, who later undertake research at the large sources, often takes place at smaller sources. Last but not least, the smaller sources also play an important role in the further development of research methods.

Many neutron sources in Europe were built in the 50s and 60s, and are now at the end of their operating life. The imminent decline in research opportunities cannot be compensated even by the ESS, state the authors. In order to avert this threat for German and European neutron research, researchers at JCNS are working on the development of a new design for a cost-efficient, accelerator-based neutron source: the “High-Brilliance Neutron Source” operates, in contrast to typical reactors, without a chain reaction, and in the midterm could replace small and mid-sized neutron research facilities.

Original publication:

Do neutrons publish? A neutron publication survey 2005-2015;
T. Gutberlet, D. Tunger, P. Zeitler, T. Brückel

Futher information:

JCNS website: more on High Brilliance Neutron Source


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