The unique characteristics of neutrons are harnessed in neutron science in a non-destructive manner, while their versatility of neutrons leads them to have applications in a broad range of domains, from the fundamental science that makes such an impact in health and energy research, through to industrial applications. Neutron technology is also an ideal tool for the characterisation of cultural heritage objects; thermal neutrons are highly penetrative of most materials, and neutron radiation can act as a diagnostic probe for collecting information from archaeological sites, or in large museum artefacts.
A detailed look into the past
The capabilities of neutron analysis in imaging also make them powerful investigative tools in cultural heritage studies. Most importantly, valuable scientific analysis harnessing the power of neutrons can be performed without causing damage to precious relics or artefacts. This also provides insight of the composition of the sample, not just the surface.
For example, it is almost impossible to know how exactly a 3000-year old sword would have been used – the weapon could have been used primarily for stabbing, or for slashing, by our Bronze Age ancestors. Neutron analyses of two such swords shed light on the structure and textures of the blade edges of the swords, indicating that the weapons were in fact used in a slashing manner.
Secrets of civil engineering history can also be revealed with neutron technology. Milan Cathedral’s 14th century construction history is long and complex; today’s neutron analysis techniques have established it as a magnificent feat of engineering. The composition of one of the cathedral’s tie rods – metallic rods that reinforce buildings – was found to be iron with zinc impurities – revealing the material composition that was used to counteract structural cracks and voids. Read more.