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Neutron Diffraction Experiment at the MIT Reactor for an Undergraduate Lab Course




NRL: Nuclear Reactor Laboratory

Faculty Supervisor:

Dr. Gordon Kohse

Faculty email:


Apply by:


Dr. Boris Khaykovich: bkh@MIT.EDU

Project Description

The MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory operates a Student Spectrometer at the on-campus MIT Research Reactor. It is a time-of-flight neutron spectrometer that is used regularly as a part of course 22.09 and was used for many years by Junior Physics Lab, course 8. The student spectrometer is used for two experiments, the measurement of the Maxwell-Boltzmann energy distribution of thermal neutrons, and neutron diffraction (or Bragg diffraction) from a single crystal. Bragg diffraction demonstrates some of the fundamental concepts of quantum physics, such as the particle-wave duality, and the periodic nature of crystal lattices. The goal of this UROP project is to rebuild and upgrade the Bragg-diffraction experiment and help develop a revised lab guide targeted at Nuclear Science and Engineering and Physics undergrads. The UROP students will prepare and then run this experiment remotely in real-time while the MIT Reactor is in operation during the Fall semester. After experimental runs have been finished, the students will analyze the data and present the results in the form of a lab guide. The data analysis and reporting will be done during late Fall and IAP. The data analysis will likely include the creation of Jupiter notebooks in Python. Time permitting, the student team would also evaluate possible improvements to the experimental apparatus to reduce background signals and thus reduce the time needed to accumulate statistically valid data. As such, this experiment will allow UROP students as much hands-on learning as possible during the Fall by experimenting in real-time, if remotely, at the operating nuclear reactor. Remote access and operation of the experiment is already in place and will be supplemented by a remote introduction to the physical setup. Academically, the UROP students will learn a set of fundamental concepts in both quantum mechanics and materials science. The students will be guided by the instructors at the MIT Nuclear Laboratory and MIT NSE who are teaching 22.09. We anticipate that two UROP students will spend about 100 hours each (8-10 hours/week for about 12 weeks during Fall and IAP). The first 20 hours will be spent studying the theory behind the experiment and training on the Student Spectrometer. The next 20 hours will be spent conducting the actual experiment. The remaining hours will be spent on data analysis, coding a Jupiter notebook, writing a report, and doing calculations and design for an improved neutron beam chopper to reduce background. The students will be encouraged to make independent decisions on the timing and distribution of the work and to provide regular updates to the staff involved.


The project would be open to any undergraduate student, on or off-campus, with sufficient interest and physics and data analysis background to move rapidly through the training phase and begin work on the main components of the project.