Debatable but efficient

News, 03 February 2022

The 55th meeting of the Programme Advisory Committee for Condensed Matter Physics was held online on 20 – 21 January. Its programme was as rich as of full-time events held long time ago.

D. Nagy presented information about the implementation of the recommendations of the 54th PAC CMP meeting. L. Kostov reported on the Resolution of the 130th session of the JINR Scientific Council and the decisions of the JINR Committee of Plenipotentiaries. The report by V. N. Shvetsov was about the current status of the IBR-2 reactor. D. Chudoba provided information on the User Programme of the facility. F. Schilling made a report “Epsilon and SKAT spectrometers: their status and upgrade prospects”. M. V. Bulavin presented a report “The Neptune reactor facility (IBR-3) at JINR: current status and future plans”. N. Kucerka introduced the audience to progress in the development of the SOLCRYS Structural Research Laboratory at the National Synchrotron Radiation Centre SOLARIS. B. Abdurakhimov spoke about the status of a new facility for neutron radiography and tomography at the WWR-SM reactor (INP AS RUz, Uzbekistan). Young FLNP scientists presented virtual posters.

We asked PAC CMP Chairman D. Nagy to comment on the meeting.

“Unfortunately, the IBR-2 facility is not available for users now. FLNP Director V. N. Shvetsov in his report did not only explain in detail the reason for that forced shutdown of the reactor but also spoke about the plans for obtaining new fuel elements that would extend the life of the reactor up to 2040. The report raised numerous questions. How did the Committee’s experts assess the situation?”

“One of the most important events of our meeting was the report by FLNP Director V. N. Schetsov and the subsequent discussion. Firstly, the reason for the forced temporary shutdown is now clear (a malfunction of one of the two air heat exchangers of the secondary cooling circuit). Thereby, there are no more gossips that have been common in the scientific community of neutron users for the last couple of months. The PAC members confirmed the work progress in the replacement of heat exchanges and highly appreciated the efforts to obtain a licence for the operation of the IBR-2 in the shortest possible time upon the legal procedure. The expected schedule of the restart of the pulsed reactor will be clarified at the next PAC meeting. The Committee was deeply impressed by the FLNP plans for the upcoming seven years, including the production of the new fuel loading for the IBR-2 to ensure the conditions necessary to extend its service life up to 2032. This measure will allow a gradual shift from the IBR-2 to the new neutron source of JINR and, perhaps, even parallel operation of the two facilities for a certain time in the late 30s or even in the early 40s.”

“Development of the project of the new neutron source is underway. M. V. Bulavin has presented the latest results in the design of the optimum active zone and fuel units. Have members of the Committee approved the work progress?”

“Mostly yes, but there are some concerns expressed. In fact, the PAC members appreciated the importance of research conducted by specialists of the Sector of New Sources and the moderator complex of FLNP in 2021. They study the vibration resistance of Neptune (IBR-3) under development with the fuel based on neptunium nitride. The obtained results allow deciding on the scheme of the active zone and the way of fuel units suspension that would ensure vibration resistance of the reactor. Moreover, specialists made necessary measures to optimise the composition of the Neptune’s reactivity modulator by using additional reflectors. They will make it possible to lower heat loads on titanium hydride and at the same time preserve the key characteristics of the new neutron source, i.e. pulse duration and relatively low background. The Committee advised carrying out R&D to optimise the reactor vessel and the reactivity modulator jointly with NIKIET Rosatom. This is necessary to proceed to the stage of preliminary design of the Neptune reactor. In addition, the PAC CMP took note of the work launched on the design of cold moderators and radiation biological protection of the reactor. However, the PAC members noted that works on the design of optics for primary neutrons hadn’t started, in fact. In conclusion, the PAC recommended continuing research into the dynamics of pulsed reactors. The Committee also advised taking into consideration the layout of the active zone of the Neptune reactor when doing R&D on creating nitride-neptunium fuel units. Furthermore, PAC recommended submitting a report on the creation of the new neutron source made within the JINR-VNIINM and JINR-NIKIET contracts at the PAC meeting scheduled for January 2023. We expect to hear a detailed report on the analysis of the operation of various cold moderators and on the design of the primary neutron optics at the next meeting.”

“In my opinion, the Committee always supports a systematic work of FLNP and its Scientific Secretary D. Chudoba on the creation of a new website for users of the IBR-2 reactor and the user committee. It will also make it easier for experts to choose from proposals for experiments, right?”

“In fact, it was the reason to develop a new website, the beta version of which already works and undergoes testing. The new website will be equally useful for users, leaders of expert commissions, supervisors, as well as coordinators of the FLNP User Programme. However, before using the new website, the old proposals, their reviews, and experimental reports should be relocated from the old system. This is a huge job that is just beginning. The forced temporary shutdown of the IBR-2 can now be turned into the advantage by using this period to conclude the data relocation and to fully test the new system.”

“FLNP takes part in the creation of experimental stations at the synchrotron radiation source in Poland and the neutron source and the cyclotron in Uzbekistan. How have the PAC members evaluated reports by N. Kucerka and B. Abdurakhimov?”

“Experts were satisfied with both reports. However, there were some comments as well. As for the SOLCRYS project, N. Kucerka presented the latest works, and the Committee conveyed appreciation. A superconducting wiggler was chosen as an x-ray radiation source. Its production was outsourced to the Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics. The FMB-Berlin company has recently completed the final design with careful coordination of the concept of direct section. Another important stage was the extension of the experimental hall necessary for placing a new laboratory there. Nevertheless, we found it necessary to comment on some issues. The PAC members have noted that various parts of the SOLCRYS structural research laboratory are now at different stages of completion. The Committee is satisfied with the adoption of technical parameters and the preliminary project of beam channels, the construction of which is approaching the application stage this year. We hope that all three main parts of the project will not be significantly behind the original schedule, provided that they are properly implemented within the three-year theme. At the same time, the Committee suggested that some time beyond this period would be necessary to complete and commission equipment, as well as to bring it to operation by users. In conclusion, the PAC CMP recommended that the thematic group submit a detailed report at the next meeting, in which it would include financial aspects, for the past period of the theme and a proposal for its extension.

As for the report by B. Abdurakhimov, the PAC members found that technical parameters of the jointly developed neutron imaging facility at the WWR-SM in Tashkent correspond to the requirements of a wide range of interdisciplinary studies in the area of material science, engineering, and cultural heritage. The Committee recommended actively developing a research programme for this facility, in particular, in the fields of non-destructive structural studies of cultural heritage objects of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The PAC CMP also advised addressing external experts for review of further optimisation of the neutron imaging facility (technical parameters of detectors, etc.).”

“A vivid discussion of the efficient evaluation of projects and themes, the appointment of reviewers has continued. Has the Committee managed to come to an overall result?”

“In fact, this has been the most debatable issue in the agenda of this PAC meeting. It is necessary to know the origins of contradictions to grasp the problem. The JINR Directorate regularly invites the PAC to assess themes and projects thus helping in optimising human and financial resources. The PAC is an advisory body, so these are the JINR Directorate and/or heads of laboratories managing resources who decide on the future of themes and projects. On the one hand, the PAC’s aid is useful provided that it is based on undistorted, unbiased reviews. However, non-blind (open) reviews cannot be undistorted and unbiased. On the other hand, all assessments are necessary to help teams that support themes and projects. It is better to carry out this task by communicating directly with teams, i.e. through open peer review. I won’t go into the details of the discussion. We’ve found a compromise accepted by all the members of the Committee. It was decided that blind reviews are appropriate for preliminary assessment as a rule. Or when themes or projects open or continue under the same or slightly changed name and content. Blind reviews should be authored by at least two people, preferably three reviewers, one of them being a PAC member. We have provided that leaders of themes and projects may offer reviewers, as well as declare a conflict of interest with some potential reviewers. The identity of “blind” reviewers will be known to the jury consisting of the chairman of the PAC, the scientific secretary of the PAC, and a PAC member-reviewer. The jury will handle this information confidentially. In the course of fulfilling topics and projects, they must also be additionally considered in an interim status at least once. There is no need for blind reviews for either intermediate or final evaluation actions. The jury’s decision is sent to the heads of a theme or a project, the JINR Directorate, and the laboratory. The PAC should assign a supervisor for each theme and project. They will interpret a jury’s position to use it for improving a theme or a project. The assessment should be done by filling in a clearly defined template. The PAC will develop and submit to the JINR Directorate a recommended template for evaluating themes and projects by April 2022. I am sure that this assessment model will be useful and durable.”

“The resolution of the 130th session of the Scientific Council says the following, “The Scientific Council thanks the PAC for Condensed Matter Physics for holding the young scientists’ poster session in videoconference format and suggests that the other PACs should have this practice.” This successful practice continues, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, thanks to the efforts of Scientific Secretary of the Programme Advisory Committee O. V. Belov and the IT team, virtual presentations by young scientists was successfully held. We saw 14 presentations. Many of them were really great. The function of the restroom on Zoom allowed “walking” along reporters and discussing with them and other “visitors of the room” the details of their presentations. It was like we were at the in-person poster session. I am afraid that the “good old days” of physical presence will not return soon, so I strongly recommend that the two other Programme Committees follow our practice. We will be happy to share our experience with them.”

“Thank you for your detailed answers.”

The winner of the poster session is V. D. Zhaketov with his work “Study of superconductivity and magnetism in layered nanostructures by the method of reflectometry of polarised neutrons with the registration of secondary radiation”. N. M. Belozerova ranked second with her work “Impact of high pressure on the structure and atomic dynamics of pharmaceutical compounds.” The third place was won by E. Arynbek with the scientific paper “Search for biomarkers of chemically and UV-induced netosis.” All winners are employees of FLNP.