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NSF Awards $11.97 Million to Caltech for Distributed Data Analysis of Neutron Scattering

PASADENA, Calif.—The National Science Foundation today awarded $11.97 million to the California Institute of Technology for computer software to analyze neutron-scattering experiments. This work could show how to design new materials for a huge variety of applications in transportation, construction, electronics, and space exploration.

The five-year Distributed Data Analysis for Neutron Scattering Experiments (DANSE) project is led by Brent Fultz, a professor of materials science and applied physics at Caltech, with coprincipal investigators Michael A. G. Aivazis of the Center for Advanced Computing Research at Caltech, and Ian S. Anderson of the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Neutron scattering is a method of analyzing the stability of materials, molecules, and condensed matter at various temperatures and pressures by looking at the positions and motions of the atoms making up the materials. According to Fultz, the research will find the principles of how atoms can be combined to form stable materials and will eventually show how new materials could be optimized for characteristics such as mechanical strength, electrical conductivity, energy storage, and resistance to corrosion.

To date, many neutron-scattering measurements have been impaired by the low intensities of today's neutron sources. This will change in 2008 as the SNS, constructed at a cost of $1.411 billion, begins to operate at high power. The unprecedented quality of data from the SNS will allow a deeper understanding of atom interactions, for example, and will require better methods for interpreting the measurements.

The DANSE project is an opportunity arising from recent developments in computing, materials theory, and the new experimental facilities at the SNS. The project integrates new materials theory with high-performance computing to push the science of the SNS and other neutron facilities to a higher level of sophistication. The project will also extend a capable software framework developed at Caltech to include distributed computing on today's networked computing hardware.

The DANSE project is centered at Caltech where its software technology effort, inelastic neutron-scattering research, and project administration will be conducted. The total grant includes smaller awards to four other universities for subfields of neutron-scattering research-neutron diffraction (Simon Billinge, Michigan State University), engineering diffraction (Erstan Ustundag, Iowa State University), small-angle scattering (Paul Butler, University of Tennessee), and reflectometry (Paul Kienzle, University of Maryland). All these different subfields need advanced scientific computing for comparing experimental data to underlying physical models or simulations, and all will benefit from a shared development effort. DANSE will develop new methods for doing neutron-scattering research in these subfields.

Planning for DANSE began during the Angular-Range Chopper Spectrometer (ARCS) project at Caltech, a five-year, $14.9 million dollar neutron-scattering instrument project initiated in 2001 with support from the U.S. Department of Energy. A detailed plan for DANSE was developed with a $980,000 design award from the NSF to Caltech in 2004. In a series of software releases, the DANSE project will deliver by 2011 a set of capabilities for neutron scattering, tested with actual science.

The NSF funding will also support an outreach effort in teacher education, which is being created by Iowa State University.

The DANSE award is the first construction award made by the Division of Materials Research under the Instrumentation for Materials Research-Mid-Scale Instrumentation Project since its inception in 2004.

Written by Robert Tindol

Caltech Media Relations