Muons: the other beamline

Published in Physics World, 1 Oct 2015

For 70 years scientists have been turning to neutrons to investigate a wide range of materials. In many ways neutrons are the ideal probes, having a wavelength that enables them to scatter off atoms, and a zero charge that allows them to penetrate materials deeply without being diverted by electrons or atomic nuclei. With all the success of neutron scattering in physics, chemistry and biology, it is hardly surprising that, the world over, there are in the region of 20 neutron sources currently in operation.

Yet the prevalence of neutron sources can sometimes obscure the success in materials science of another subatomic particle: the muon. Unlike neutrons, muons do not scatter off materials when they travel through them, and so they do not provide much information about atomic structure. Instead, muons behave as incredibly sensitive magnetic and electric probes, fit to explore the phenomena behind all sorts of applications such as computer storage, batteries, high-temperature superconductivity and semiconductors. […]

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