Neutron and X-Ray Scattering – Niels Bohr Institute - University of Copenhagen

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Niels Bohr Institute > Research > Condensed matter physics > Neutron and X-Ray Scat...


The research group Neutron and X-Ray Scattering use neutron and x-rays to study the atomic structure of condensed matter.

The atomic structure of condensed matter is studied on the nanometer scale, so you can, for example, see the shape and size of everything from soft biological surfaces to hard metals. They are also studying how atoms move – whether they stand and vibrate or whether they scatter. This is being done in order to find out how all of the material that surrounds us is built up. By gaining a better understanding of how materials are built up, you can determine their properties.

Certain materials have magnetic properties or they may be antiferromagnetic – for example, iron oxide (rust) has some wildly vibrating properties and these oxides can be superconductive in liquid nitrogen. It may possibly be some quantum mechanical properties that cause superconductivity. We do not know why it works like that, but by understanding it, we are well on our way to being able to control it and use it – and it would be a revolution in energy production as there is no loss of energy in the process.  

X-rays are also used to make direct 3D images of subjects. This is called ‘imaging’ and is done in collaboration with the eScience group, who are responsible for the image production. 

X-ray scanning of foodstuffs is a major research project, where they are working to be able to distinguish soft foreign bodies like dead flies, paper and plastic in meat, fish, bread and dairy products. You cannot do this with traditional x-ray scanning, but with the new technique you will be able to achieve a contrast in the microstructures that makes it possible to detect soft foreign objects in foodstuffs.

Another part of the project is the use of inelastic neutron scattering to understand how water moves when it is encapsulated in clay and cement pastes, as well as investigating whether a drug undergoes structural changes in the bottle. This technique requires no intervention and therefore avoids mechanical influences that can change the physicochemical properties of the substance. With this study, it is therefore possible to see deep into the interactions involving hydrogen atoms and show the mutual interaction of molecules.