Lujan Center touts string of successes

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By Carol A. Clark

A burgeoning number of college students and seasoned scientists from across the globe are conducting research projects together at the Manuel Lujan, Jr. Neutron Scattering Center.

The 150,000 square-foot facility is unique in many ways as nationally recognized, award-winning scientist Alan Hurd pointed out during an in-depth tour on Tuesday afternoon.

“This is one of the few neutron facilities in the world,” said Hurd who is the center’s director. “The Lujan Center employs a pulsed spallation neutron source equipped with time-of-flight spectrometers for neutron scattering studies of condensed-matter. Neutron scattering is a powerful technique for probing the microscopic structure and dynamics of condensed matter and is used in materials science, engineering, condensed matter physics, chemistry, biology, and geology.”

The center is the only user facility in the DOE complex that routinely does both classified and unclassified research simultaneously.

It houses 15 neutron instruments, 12 of which are for materials research.

Cev Noyan is a professor of materials science at Columbia University. He was in the middle of conducting important research on cable stress for bridges to understand why the Minneapolis bridge collapsed on Aug. 1, 2008, killing 13, and to better predict the stability of bridges throughout New York.

“The Lujan Center is the only place where I can do this kind of research,” Noyan said. “This facility is critical to the nation.”

Located inside Technical Area 53, the Lujan Center is part of the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

On Friday, 30 graduate and post-doc students from around the country completed the 10 day, annual LANSCE Neutron Scattering School.

As they moved through the expansive facility, many students behaved as if they were walking on hallowed ground.

“It’s really incredible to be here,” said Elise Martin, a nuclear physics student from Kentucky.

Hurd is an enthusiastic champion of the Lujan center. He came from 17 years at Sandia National Laboratories to take over as Center director in 2001.

He also manages the laboratory’s program for interacting with the Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences in Neutron Scattering and leads the group that operates and manages the scientific program at the Lujan Center, LANSCE-12.

In these roles he supports and advances the use of LANSCE for materials studies and basic understanding of nuclear structures by the national and international community of scientists.

In the eight years he’s been in charge, the Lujan Center has grown steadily and increased annual user participation from some 50 to nearly 800 users annually, he said.

That’s in addition to the many tour groups passing through the facility each year.

“The Lujan Center is the biggest window to the Laboratory the outside world has,” he said.

Hurd shares his passion for the center with LANSCE founder and renowned scientist Louis Rosen.

They speak often because although retired, Rosen comes in to work for a couple of hours every day, Hurd said, commending Rosen for his brilliant contributions to the scientific community.

The Lujan Center is considered one of the most impressive, large facilities at the Laboratory.  It receives beam from the LANSCE accelerator, which is LANL’s signature facility.

“LANSCE is one of the most powerful talent magnets for recruiting to the lab,” he said. “About 10 percent of Laboratory staff came through LANSCE.”

New Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu had dinner at the Lujan Center in March.

The center was one of only a couple of facilities he saw on his first-ever visit to LANL.

The Lujan Center has become one of the LANL’s top science producers, creating some 120 archival journal papers every year.

“We have one of the most diverse and youthful staff at the lab,” Hurd said. “About half of us are foreign nationals because we must recruit talent on a global market.”

The Center is a “Designated National User Facility” by Congress, one of only two currently operating at the Lab, he said.

For the last three years, it has been the largest neutron user facility in the DOE complex, hosting 45 percent of the DOE neutron users during that period on only 5 percent of the DOE neutron budget.

Hurd has twice received the DOE Basic Energy Sciences Award for Sustained Outstanding Research and in 1992, won the DOE Basic Energy Sciences Award for Significant DOE Implications.

Hurd received the 1999 Woody Award from the Materials Research Society, which is awarded once per year for outstanding service to the society.

Hurd graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from the Colorado School of Mines and with a master’s degree and doctorate in physics from the University of Colorado.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext.25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.