Demonstration of the technological capability for production of neutron-focusing nickel mirrors

Period of Performance: 02/21/2017 - 11/20/2017


Phase 1 STTR

Recipient Firm

Electroformed Nickel
785 Martin Road
Huntsville, AL 35824
Firm POC
Principal Investigator

Research Institution

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Institution POC


Neutron scattering is one of the most useful methods of studying the structure and dynamics of matter. Therefore, a number of new large neutron facilities have recently being constructed, upgraded or planned around the world. Examples include the new, 1.4 billion-dollars Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at DoE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and upgrades of ORNL’s High-Flux Isotope Reactor and NIST Center for Neutron Research, where a number of new instruments are being constructed. Elsewhere in the world, new neutron research facilities include those in Japan, Australia and Germany, while future European and Chinese sources are at advanced stages of planning. In spite of recent developments of neutron sources, most, if not all, neutron techniques are limited by the flux illuminating the samples. Therefore, much effort is spent on improving neutron instrumentation, striving to preserve neutron source brilliance. State of the art optical instruments for visible and x-ray light use a variety of focusing devices, such as lenses, Fresnel zone plates and mirrors to reach unprecedented resolution. Were such powerful optical tools available for neutron scattering, they might bring significant, even transformative, improvements to rate-limited neutron methods and enable new science. The MIT/NASA collaboration, led by the PI of this proposal, has recently pioneered and demonstrated such a tool: axisymmetric grazing-incidence mirrors, inspired by their successful use in x-ray astronomy. The mirrors, which act like optical lenses, have the potential to transform pinhole- camera-like neutron instruments into much more powerful ones that resemble microscopes. The technology of producing these mirrors by electroplating from precise mandrels has been developed at NASA, with substantial participation of the PI. This project aims at commercialization of this technology for producing neutron-focusing mirrors. The Phase I proposal will demonstrate the capability of Electroformed Nickel Inc (ENI) for the task. The mirrors will be produced at ENI, by electroforming nickel replicas from precisely finished and polished mandrels. Nickel is an element especially suitable for reflecting neutrons. In parallel, the subcontractor at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory will demonstrate the coating of a mandrel with Ni/Ti multilayers and transfer the coating to the replica to create a neutron- focusing supermirror. Also in parallel, the PI at the research institution, MIT, will develop specifications for mirrors, which could be used at neutron-imaging facilities, in particular at the neutron-imaging instrument, which is under design for the SNS. The result of the future Phase-II will be prototype mirrors ready for installation at SNS and, possibly, other facilities. Commercial Applications and Benefits Commercial application of the neutron-focusing mirrors is their potential use by many neutron facilities, in the US and beyond. The mirrors will result in better-performing neutron instruments, in turn leading to new insights into materials behavior by a large number of both academic and industrial scientists using neutron instruments.