Interview with Stephen Cottrell

Stephen Cottrell, coordinator of the Muons JRA, is an instrument scientist at ISIS.

Stephen Cottrell

How did the idea for this collaboration come up?

The collaboration between the facilities arose naturally from a common requirement for new technologies for high field μSR. At the time, each facility was developing a new high field spectrometer and coming up against similar technical problems. Therefore, it was natural for us to work together to find solutions to mutual problems; development of instrument simulation codes and new types of detectors came from this collaboration. Meanwhile, a number of university groups had ideas for developing technically challenging μSR techniques, such as pressure measurements or RF methods, and the JRA was an ideal way for them to collaborate with facility scientists on these developments.

What was it like coordinating collaboration between the different members of the JRA?

The collaborations within the JRA have worked well, with activities focussed by a common theme. Work was coordinated by looking well ahead to remind groups of forthcoming milestones and deliverables. Regular meetings gave us a chance to catch up on what everyone was doing and also provided the opportunity to discuss any issues arising with the projects. In fact, one of our biggest problems came from the fluctuating exchange rate: this affected the amount of money available to spend on the project at a given time – but this was outside our control!

What have you and the others involved learned from this collaboration?

The benefits of being involved in the collaboration are huge! Individually, the facilities are working to solve specific problems that optimise the performance of new instruments, while University groups help drive the innovation of new experimental techniques in order to solve their immediate scientific problems. By working together, supported by funding from the NMI3, we’ve found we can achieve much more. For example, we’ve been able to provide general tools for tackling problems such as instrument design and detector development, while new experimental methods have been demonstrated and then made available to the wider scientific community.

What are the advantages of taking part in a project supported by NMI3?

The support from NMI3 has been absolutely crucial to the various collaborations included in our JRA. It’s provided funding for equipment and, most importantly, staff; giving us the resources to develop and test new techniques that have been used for the new high field spectrometers and novel experiments. Funding for travel has also been important, as it’s allowed us to get together to discuss our projects and present our work at international meetings – this is really important for making people aware of what’s possible with μSR. It’s also good to be part of a wider collaboration; the General Assemblies are a useful forum for meeting and exchanging ideas with others working in similar areas.

What are the plans for your future research? Will you continue participating in this type of collaboration?

The muon community certainly hopes to continue participating in this type of collaboration – we have lots of good ideas for developing aspects of the μSR technique that we’re keen to take forward! In the next contract (NMI3-II) we’ll continue with the theme of high field μSR, with work focussing on improving codes for data analysis and engaging in outreach to make the wider scientific community aware of these new techniques. Looking to the future, there are quite a number of groups keen to work together to develop DFT codes both for calculating hyperfine couplings and predicting the muon site in materials, and then there are ideas for new, intense muon sources that we want to look into.