The Scientific User Facilities Division supports the operation of a nationwide suite of major facilities that provide open access to sophisticated instrumentation needed to probe and create materials for scientists of many disciplines from academia, national laboratories, and industry. These large-scale user facilities consist of a complementary set of intense x-ray sources, neutron scattering centers, electron beam characterization capabilities, and research centers for nanoscale science. These facilities probe materials in space, time, and energy with the appropriate resolutions that can interrogate the inner workings of matter transport, reactivity, fields, excitations, and motion to answer some of the most challenging grand science questions. Taking advantage of the intrinsic charge, mass, and magnetic characteristics of x-rays, neutrons, and electrons, these tools offer unique capabilities to help understand the fundamental aspects of the natural world.

The Division recognizes that at the heart of scientific discovery lies advanced tools and instruments. The continual development and renovation of the instrumental capabilities includes new x-ray and neutron experimental stations, improved core facilities, and new stand-alone instruments. The Division also manages a research portfolio in accelerator and detector development to explore technology options for developing the next generations of x-ray and neutron sources. Collectively, these user facilities and enabling tools produce a host of important research results that span the continuum from basic to applied research and embrace the full range of scientific and technological endeavors, including chemistry, physics, geology, materials science, environmental science, biology, and biomedical science. These capabilities offer critical scientific insights for the discovery and design of advanced materials and novel chemical processes with broad societal impacts, from energy applications to information and biomedical technologies.

The BES-supported suite of facilities and research centers provides a unique set of analytical tools for studying the atomic structure and functions of complex materials. These facilities provide key capabilities to correlate the microscopic structure of materials with their macroscopic properties. The synchrotron light sources, producing photons largely over a very wide range of photon energies (from the infrared to hard x-rays), shed light on fundamental aspects of the physical world, investigating energy, momentum, and position using the techniques of spectroscopy, scattering, and imaging applied over various time scales. Neutron sources take advantage of the electrical neutrality and special magnetic properties of the neutron to probe atoms and molecules and their assembly into materials. Electron beam instruments provide the spatial resolution needed to observe individual nanostructures and even single atoms by exploiting the strong interactions of electrons with matter and the ability to readily focus beams of charged particles. The Nanoscale Science Research Centers provide the ability to fabricate complex nanostructures using chemical, biological, and other synthesis techniques, and to characterize, assemble, and integrate them into devices.

Annually, the BES user facilities are visited by more than 14,000 scientists and engineers in many fields of science and technology. These facilities provide unique capabilities to the scientific community and are a critical component of maintaining U.S. leadership in the physical sciences. The light sources are an outstanding example of serving users from a diverse range of disciplines, including physical and life sciences. For example, the life sciences sector of the light sources users increased from less than 10% in the 1990s to over 40% in 2009. Also supported are research activities leading to the improvement of today’s facilities and better detectors, paving the foundation for the development of next generation facilities.