First neutrons from ISIS TS-2!
In a break from your regularly scheduled programme on Open Science we bring you news from deepest darkest Oxfordshire. I am based at ISIS, the UK’s neutron source, where my job is to bring in and support more biological science that uses neutrons. Neutron scattering, while it has made a number of crucial contributions to the biological sciences, has always been a bit player in comparison to x-ray crystallography and NMR. My job, is to try and build and strengthen this activity and to see the potential of neutron scattering in structural biology realised.
The Second Target Station project at ISIS is a huge part of this, and the reason I have a job here. TS-2 is designed specifically to provide a high flux of low energy neutrons, which are ideally suited to looking at large scale structures and biological molecules. The energy characteristics of the neutrons mean they have wavelengths ranging from angstroms up to around 2 nm, meaning they will be well suited to looking the overall shape and size of biomolecules and their complexes. The increase in flux, probably about 10-20 fold over the existing target station, means that experiments can be faster, or smaller, or more dilute. All things that make the bioscientists job easier. Over £140M has been spent on building the target and the instruments that will make use of these neutrons.
At 1308 yesterday the first neutrons were detected on the Inter beamline with a spectrum and flux pretty much dead on what was expected. In fact the first shot flipped out the detector it was so strong. This has been a massive project that despite news coverage to the contrary has been delivered essentially on time and on budget. Congratulations are due to all those involved in pulling this off. As the instruments themselves start to come fully online now we are going to get the chance to do many things that were either difficult or impossible before. In particular I am excited about what we will be able to do with the new small angle instrument SANS2d and INTER, the reflectometer, particularly in the area of membrane biology.