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The U.S. Wants More NanoScientists for Neutron Scanning

by Editor1 last modified December 07, 2011 - 12:57

The U.S. needs more nanoscientists trained in neutron scattering techniques. To fill the gap, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will invest $3 million to train current and new scientists in this area. The grant will go to the University of Missouri, home of MU’s Research Reactor (MURR).

The U.S. Wants More NanoScientists for Neutron Scanning

The MURR is a facility uniquely equipped to help train a new generation of scientists in the use of neutron scattering techniques. The NSF funds will be matched by UM with an additional $1.3 million.

The neutron scattering training program will target three areas of research and interdisciplinary study, according to Haskell Taub, a professor of physics in UM’s College of Arts and Science and director of the training program. They will include:

  1. The molecular structure and dynamics of biological materials;
  2. The characterization of materials used for electronic devices, such as lasers and computers; and
  3. The structure of nanoscale materials, such as gold nanoparticles that have many uses including cancer treatments.

For years, scientists have used neutron scattering techniques to discover the molecular properties of materials. Further, the technologies that have been developed using neutron scattering include new drugs, high-strength metals and cement, electronic and magnetic devices, and hydrogen storage materials.

Over the last several decades, the U.S. has invested nearly $2 billion for new facilities that have the capability to conduct neutron scattering experiments.

But today, despite these investment in facilities and equipment and the promise of these nanoscale technologies, Taub said “very few” researchers are qualified to use these facilities. This prompted the NSF investment in a neutron scattering training program.

Under the newly-funded program, graduate students who are working toward their doctorates will have the opportunity to apply for the training, Taub said, adding that he hopes to train up to 20 students during the five year program, which will provide $30,000 annual stipend plus tuition and fees.

"We also will train faculty who have research that could benefit from neutron scattering, but are unfamiliar with the technique," Taub said in a statement.

"Faculty who are trained in neutron scattering will partner with faculty from other departments who bring interesting science or engineering projects, but lack experience or expertise in neutron scattering. By doing this, we hope to expand the use of neutron scattering even further," he added.

Training a Neutron-Scanning Scientist
At MU, faculty from five departments will participate in the multi-disciplinary program. They include professors from physics, biochemistry, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and biological sciences.

Taub’s training project will use problem-based learning in the courses, including hands-on training at MURR. It will follow guidelines of Mizzou's writing intensive courses. Both instructional methods have been recognized as strengths at MU. He added that graduates of the program will develop communication and organizational skills required to collaborate with scientific teams in different parts of the globe.

MU will collaborate with Indiana University, North Carolina State University, and Fisk University. "As Fisk University produces more African-American students who go on to earn doctoral degrees in the natural sciences than any other school in the nation, we are delighted to be partnering with MU in training our country's next generation of neutron scattering scientists," said Arnold Burger, professor of physics at Fisk University

The latest training grant is part of the NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT). It is the first such award received by MU since the IGERT program began in 1998.