Proteins – Viruses – Cell membranes – Biological processes - Drug delivery and action - Environment
Neutron beams are particularly suitable for biological research. They can be generated with energies and wavelengths appropriate for probing a range of biological structures, from small molecules such as lipids or peptides, to larger molecules and molecular assemblies including viruses. Being electrically neutral, neutrons can travel deep into materials and are non-destructive.
One of their most important advantages is that they interact quite strongly with hydrogen nuclei, so can pick out all the hydrogen atoms in a structure, including those in water molecules. (This is in contrast to X-ray analysis, in which the X-rays are reflected only by the electrons in an atom, and thus do not easily see hydrogen.) Determining the precise location and orientation of the hydrogen atoms in a molecule is usually crucial to understanding its biological behaviour.
See also 2019 review of ILL research illustrating the application of neutron techniques in Biology and Health: Neutrons and Health (pdf - 5.45 Mi)