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Why use neutrons?


What neutron scattering shows. © R. Bucher, JCNS at MLZ

When beams of neutrons are used to probe small samples of materials they have the power to reveal what cannot be seen using other types of radiation. Neutrons appear to behave either as particles or as waves or as microscopic magnetic dipoles. It is these specific properties which enable them to yield information which is often impossible to obtain using other techniques.

Electrically Neutral

Microscopically Magnetic

Ångstrom wavelengths


Available industrially relevant techniques are:


The way neutrons scatter off gases, liquids and solid matter gives us information about the structure of these materials (elastic neutron scattering). The neutron excitation of atoms gives information about the binding energy within matter (inelastic neutron scattering). Their ability to act as 'small elementary magnets' makes neutrons an ideal probe for the determination of structures and dynamics of unknown magnetic matter.

Heavy nuclei can be split with neutrons. This can shed light on a number of still unknown processes in atomic fission. Neutrons can also be captured by nuclei. The process releases secondary radiation which can be used to determine the inner structure of these nuclei.

We indicate below how neutrons are used in different fields of research.

Condensed-matter physics, materials science and chemistry


Biological materials, naturally rich in hydrogen and other light elements, are ideal samples for analysis with neutrons.

Engineering sciences

Since neutron diffraction is non-destructive, it is ideal for the analysis of different technical phenomena in materials.