China celebrated a major scientific breakthrough on August 28, 2017, when the China Spallation Neutron Source (CSNS) produced its first neutron beam.
The CSNS will provide powerful support to high-value scientific projects and seeks to make great contributions to China's sustainable development and national security.
Hailed as a "super microscope", the CSNS offers an excellent resource for scientists looking to probe the micro-cosmos.
The discovery and application of neutrons were one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century, said Chen Hesheng, academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
As well as being non-destructive, neutrons are electrically neutral and have high penetrativity, and are thus able to differentiate between light elements, isotopes and neighboring elements. As a result, neutron scattering is one of the best approaches to studying material structures and dynamic properties.
"When projected onto samples, the neutrons react with the nucleus and magnetic moments and then produce scattering," said Chen, adding that scientists study the microstructures and law of motion of each material by measuring the energy and momentum changes in the scattering.
Though neutrons are tiny particles, a spallation neutron source is a bulky device that integrates the most advanced technologies. China is the fourth country in the world to have developed its own spallation neutron source after the UK, the U.S., and Japan.
Because of the high costs of some key components offered by foreign companies, Chinese researchers of the CSNS decided to develop their own technologies to manufacture the parts. Through cooperation with a number of institutions, they finally succeeded after years of endeavor, said Fu Shinian, vice general manager of the CSNS.
"By breaking down a series of technical barriers, we have localized over 96% of the parts, and the development of some of the devices is taking the lead in the international community," Chen introduced.
After 10 years of construction, the CSNS will be soon completed and make its first step toward industrialization.
The technology is expected to usher in a new era of oncotherapy in the next five years. "Boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) is a technology used to treat tumors through neutron beams," said Zhang Zhongneng, chairman of the pharmaceutical manufacturing company HEC Group.
"It is able to kill cancer cells without damaging peripheral tissues, featuring a high level of safety, high precision and low cost," he added.
HEC Group has signed a cooperative agreement with the Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences to carry out a BNCT treatment project by exploiting the spallation neutron source. A commercial BNCT treatment center is scheduled to be established, said Wang Yifang, president of the IHEP.
However, life sciences are not the only field in which the CSNS can be applied. As a new platform of interdisciplinary studies, it can be broadly used in a number of sectors including materials science, chemical engineering, resource and environment and new energy.
The spallation neutron source can also be used for the study of the formation mechanism and stability condition of methane clathrate, offering a scientific basis to promote a more secure and effective exploitation of combustible ice, Chen explained.
China has a unique advantage over the three other spallation neutron sources in that it enjoys close integration with the manufacturing industry.
Dongguan, southern China's Guangdong province, where the CSNS is located, is home to 2,028 high-tech companies. The city is planning to build a 45.7-square kilometer industrial park for neutron technology, said Huang Qinghui, deputy mayor of Dongguan.
Currently, the industrial park is bringing together a batch of internationally influential companies. Huawei, a Chinese multinational networking and telecommunications equipment and services company, will send a total of 30,000 researchers to the park. The industrial park will attract more personnel upon completion, becoming a hub for 600 scientists to carry out their research simultaneously.
According to Huang, the CSNS project contributed to China's rapid development of the technology and industrial application of neutron scattering, particularly in the Greater Pearl River Delta region.