70 Years of Neutron Beams for Materials Research: The CNBC Releases Its Final Activity Report

With the release of its final activity report, the Canadian Neutron Beam Centre (CNBC) celebrates Canada’s leadership in the use of neutron beams for materials research for over 70 years.

“Our leadership began with the startup of the NRX reactor at Chalk River Laboratories in 1947,” says John Root, Director of the CNBC. “It spanned from the pioneering days of developing neutron scattering techniques through to the global recognition of neutron beams as an invaluable tool for the study of materials.”

The importance of these advancements was marked by the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physics, as well as by the proliferation of neutron beam facilities around the world.

“Today, we are proud to have grown a strong Canadian community of neutron beam users who have engaged with us to maximize value from our beamlines until the very last moment of the NRU reactor’s operating life in March 2018,” continues Root.

Since the closure of the NRU reactor, the CNBC has been in a decommissioning phase.

“As we look forward to the future by securing access to neutron beams from alternate facilities, now is an appropriate time to pause and reflect on Canada’s strong record of performance and impact, as presented in this report,” adds Thad Harroun, President of the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering.   

Read the 2019 CNBC Activity Report

Report Examines Impact of Canadian Research Using Neutron Beams on Canada’s Innovation Economy

The Canadian Neutron Beam Centre (CNBC), a national research facility in Chalk River, Ontario, that is now in a decommissioning phase, “had a positive impact on Canadian innovation, research, and industry, as well as on the development of highly qualified personnel in Canada.” This is the conclusion of Strategic Policy Economics (Strapolec), a leading strategy consulting firm commissioned by the CNBC to analyse and summarize the benefits that materials research using neutron beams the CNBC has offered to Canada’s academic communities and industries.

The Strapolec report provides fresh evidence of impact from the CNBC and its user community, and builds on earlier studies by Science-Metrix and KPMG,” says John Root, CNBC Director.

“Among other analyses, Strapolec undertook the first longitudinal analysis of students that have received training at the CNBC over the years,” adds Root, noting that there have been about 1000 such students over the past 35 years.

The study found that the CNBC was an engine of supply of highly qualified people, enhancing university training and inspiring students to pursue greater educational achievements, which led to careers in Canada’s academic, industrial manufacturing, and scientific R&D sectors where their skills are needed most.

Other major findings of Strapolec include:

  • The CNBC was a key element of Canada’s research infrastructure that supports its innovation economy and was competitive with international neutron beam facilities.
  • The CNBC’s user community was well-distributed across Canada, and it enabled these users to make greater scientific impacts; it was used by a high proportion of Canada Research Chair holders and was rated Canada’s most valuable research asset by international scientific experts.
  • Researchers who used the CNBC attracted a high proportion of collaborative industry research dollars from a broad cross-section of Canada’s industries that invest in R&D.

“The CNBC was held in high esteem among the international research community; it was probably the best regarded major research facility in Canada,” says Thad Harroun, President of the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering. “Our expertise is now focussed on re-creating that success at a new facility.”

Read the Full Report

Parliamentary Committee Recommends Implementation of the Canadian Neutron Initiative

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance (FINA)  recommended, in its December 10, 2018 report, that the Government of Canada “Support the pan-Canadian, university-led Canadian Neutron Initiative to ensure that Canada maintains our place among leaders in materials research in priority areas, such as producing and storing clean energy, growing the economy through advanced manufacturing and clean technologies, and promoting health through biomedical and life sciences.” 
The report, entitled Cultivating Competitiveness: Helping Canadians Succeed, is the culmination of the Committee’s consultations for the 2019 budget. 

The recommendation to implement the Canadian Neutron Initiative (CNI) is part of a series of recommendations to “stimulate research and development.” The recommendation follows the submission of the CNI Working Group, which asked for an allocation of “$24M of new funding in Budget 2019, and $100M over five years, starting in 2021‐22, to the Canada Foundation for Innovation to establish, via the Canadian Neutron Initiative, a pan‐Canadian,university‐led framework for materials research and innovation with neutron beams.” 

The brief to the CNI as presented to FINA in 2018 and in 2017 are available from the CNI resource page.



Highlights from the CINS meeting in Windsor

Science talks showing the range of research applications of neutron beams, from Alzheimer’s disease to rock formation, and intense discussion of the neutron beam community’s future are among the highlights from the CINS meeting at the University of Windsor.
Continue reading Highlights from the CINS meeting in Windsor

Update on the Canadian Neutron Initiative and the “Neutrons@Mac” meeting

The gathering of researchers at McMaster University on May 17 was highly productive, and well attended with approximately 40 people in person and online, representing 12 universities from 4 provinces.

A key outcome was the statement of continued support for the Canadian Neutron Initiative (CNI), which follows below. In the subsequent online survey, CINS members were 80.5% in favour of the statement.

Although the CNI was not funded in the 2018 federal budget, we can build on the CNI’s momentum to realize the goal of establishing a new framework for leadership, management and funding of Canada’s capacity for materials research with neutron beams.

The statement also reflects two constructive ideas for moving forward:

First, CINS members wish to assist the CNI with securing some of the funds required for CNI’s 10-year vision through a multi-institutional CFI Innovation Fund application. This would for equipment to be located at foreign partner neutron sources and at the McMaster Nuclear Reactor.  An initial committee of CINS members representing McMaster, McGill, U. Toronto, and U. Winnipeg was struck to explore this idea further.

Second, there was strong agreement that all efforts toward the future need to be unified and pan-Canadian. There should be a single governance structure, representing multiple universities, for the future neutron beam program for Canada so that all activities will be coordinated. This includes the coordination of CNI’s efforts in Ottawa and at the provincial levels, the emerging neutron beam facilities at the McMaster Nuclear Reactor, and a CFI Innovation Fund application. With 16 supporting institutions from across Canada, the CNI working group is best positioned to determine the appropriate governance structure and to establish the needed multi-university organization. We have invited the CNI working group to undertake this critical task as a next step.

CINS Statement of Renewed Support for the Canadian Neutron Initiative Working Group (CNI)

Canada has been a world leader in neutron scattering for 70 years, since the pioneering Nobel-prize winning work of Bertram Brockhouse in the early 1950’s. Today, Canadian scientists use neutron beams for a wide range of applications, from understanding quantum materials to determining reliability of car engine parts.

In light of the loss of Canada’s major neutron source, the wind down of the Canadian Neutron Beam Centre, and the expiry of special access for Canadians at the Spallation Neutron Source in the USA, we remain committed to strive for a university-based, national program to maintain and expand the scientific resources Canada needs for materials research using neutron beams.

We strongly believe that at this critical moment, the continued leadership of the CNI is needed.

As it stands, Canada is now alone among developed nations without either a neutron beam laboratory, or formal arrangements for access to one, a situation which is embarrassing and intolerable.

Since 1986, CINS has advocated for Canadian capability for materials research using neutron beams. We see a future in which a broad base of Canadian scientists conduct their research using domestic and foreign facilities, train highly qualified people, and contribute to global advances in neutron beam techniques and instrument development. To achieve these goals, we must:

  1. Invest in scientific partnerships with foreign neutron beam laboratories, to secure sufficient beam time to meet Canadian needs for applications that require the brightest sources of neutrons.
  2. Upgrade the neutron beam capabilities of the McMaster Nuclear Reactor, our best remaining source for neutron beams in Canada, for a range of high demand capabilities that can be conducted at a medium-flux neutron source.
  3. Establish a domestic hub that facilitates access to neutron beam facilities for specialist, non-specialist, and new users alike, builds expertise and capabilities, keeping us at the forefront of research and technological development, and acts as the administrative centre for the national program.

We also need to make the science case for a major contribution to a new high-flux neutron source for the long-term, thereby re-establishing our position of leadership in the international community.

The Canadian Neutron Initiative is a plan to establish a new framework for leadership, management and funding of Canada’s capacity for materials research with neutron beams, building on existing national and international resources.

Our priorities are well aligned with the CNI’s efforts, and we appreciate and approve of the efforts that the CNI has put forward thus far. The CNI has received support from 16 organizations, and raised awareness of the need for a new framework with funding agencies and government decision-makers. The CNI has the necessary momentum and expertise to push forward and establish the needed national program constituted by a new university-based organization.

As representatives of the research community, we commit to supporting the CNI effort in any way possible. We foresee participating in competitions for funds that could be used to partially advance one or more of the above priorities, adding to the resources on which the CNI can build a holistic national program. We regard such efforts as a contribution to, rather than competition with, the CNI.

We propose that CINS work towards a multi-university, multi-disciplinary proposal for the next CFI Innovation Fund, which would be a significant contribution to the CNI’s decadal vision. CINS will invite universities to join the CNI working group, thereby ensuring coordination of efforts, further uniting our community and strengthening the governance of the CNI and of the university-based organization that emerges from it. We request the CNI help establish as appropriate governance structure for the future of neutron scattering for Canada.

Canada’s Chief Science Advisor visits the world’s brightest source of neutrons

Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, visited the Institut Laue-Langevin in Genoble, France, on May 18. As proposed by the Canadian Neutron Initiative, Canada needs to forge partnerships with foreign facilities following the closure of its domestic source of neutrons at Chalk River, Ontario on March 31, 2018.  Continue reading Canada’s Chief Science Advisor visits the world’s brightest source of neutrons