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Overview of Neutron Total

Cross Sections
Department of Physics
University of Rome “Tor Vergata”
6 February 2006

J. M. Carpenter
Argonne National Laboratory
• This is an overview of the total neutron
cross sections, sampled to illustrate
their variety of nuclear and materials-
state dependence.
Definition of Cross Section


! = 1 number of reactions per unit time = R

N incident neutron flux NI
Hydrogen gas

Mostly scattering, continues as 1/v

at low energies beyond
80-b “bound atom” value
Liquid Helium-4

Very prominent low temperature dependence

Beryllium Polycrystal

Bragg Edges
Oxygen gas
Aluminum polycrystal

Bragg edges Resonance

Scandium metal

Destructive Resonance
Scattering Interference
Vanadium metal


Scattering and

Strong low-energy

Highest known
low-energy cross section

Huge low-energy Low energy resonances

cross section

Mostly fission, small low-energy resonance


Mostly scattering,
Low-energy resonances,
Bragg edges
Very narrow line at 6.7 eV
Resonance Effects in Slow-Neutron

Resonances in neutron-nuclear interactions affect the

absorption and scattering cross sections in samples, the
scattering lengths (which in general are complex functions
of the energy) that enter in diffraction, inelastic scattering,
and refraction. In the past, only a few of these have been of
interest, as, for example in steady-source applications in the
range of energies below about 100. meV, and these seldom
productively used. With the advent of powerful pulsed
sources, the range of accessible energies in neutron
experiments will likely extend to much higher energies.
Mughabghab and Gerber tabulate 472 “strong” resonances
up to 100. eV, and present both opportunities and potential
difficulties in planning and interpreting measurements

We treat single-nucleus absorption and scattering cross sections,

scattering lengths and products of scattering lengths, and indices
of refraction, the latter of which have imaginary components in
the neighborhood of the resonance energies.

First we recite the significant formulas and describe the use of

the data, not in any sense of derivation from principles but rather
in the sense of a compendium of recipes. Then we show the
results of test calculations, which verify the recipe and illustrate
the behavior of the functions.
Breit-Wigner Formulation
Shortly after the discovery of neutrons, early workers
discovered the presence of sharp maxima in the neutron-
nuclear cross sections. Soon thereafter, Breit and Wigner
developed a theory describing the phenomenon in terms of
resonant interactions with states of excitation of the
“compound nuclei” consisting of the struck nucleus and the
interacting neutron.
Breit-Wigner Formulas

Except in a few cases, only scattering and capture processes are

relevant. The capture cross section is
$ "r(E r) E r 1
! "(E) =# !or
r $ r (E) E 1 + y2r
and the scattering cross section is
Breit-Wigner Formulas

yr = ! 2(E) (E – E r ) ,
In which Er is the energy of the rth resonance and the
energies are expressed in the laboratory reference system.
The Γrs are “partial widths” describing each type of
interaction for the rth resonance. The neutron width varies
with neutron energy as

The total width (equal to the fwhm) for each resonance varies
mildly with energy
! r (E) = ! n r(E) + ! "r + ! #r + ! p r + ! fr +…,
Breit-Wigner Formulas

σor is the value of the total cross section at the peak of the
rth resonance when the neutron energy E = Er
2 g$ n r(E r)
! o r = 4"#r $ (E ) .
r r

and (for this purpose only) the reduced wavelength of the neutron
at resonant energy in the center-of-mass reference is
!r = 1 !r = 1 A + 1 h
2" 2" A 2mE r
2J + 1 .
g = 2(2I + 1)

I and J are the spins of the struck and of the compound nucleus.
Breit-Wigner Formulas

The coherent bound-atom scattering amplitudes for single-

nucleus scattering are complex numbers
+, – # r$ n r(E)
b +coh, – (E) = R! + " r ,
2(E – E r) + i$ r(E)

For bcoh+ the sum extends over all resonances for which J = I + 1/2,
and for bcoh- extends over all resonances for which J = I - 1/2.
In the interactions that form the J = I + 1/2 state, the neutron
emerges with the same spin orientation as the incident state
(non-spin-flip). In the interactions that form the J = I - 1/2 state,
the neutron emerges with the spin orientation flipped from the
incident state. R’ is the “potential scattering radius”, constant w/r E.
Breit-Wigner Formulas

When the neutron energy is much smaller than the resonance

energies, E << Er the coherent scattering amplitudes are
+ ,– # r$ n r(E)
b +coh, – = R! – " r .
Thus bcoh is smaller than R' because the resonance sum is a
positive number. Moreover, the sum is independent of the energy
1 A+1
! = ! / 2" = 2" h = A+ 1 1
A 2mE A k
and because the neutron widths are proportional to E 1/2.
These are the values that appear in the tables of low-
energy scattering lengths.
Breit-Wigner Formulas

For neutron unpolarized neutrons, what is known in the context of

neutron scattering as the “coherent scattering length” is the statistical
average of the two single-nucleus coherent scattering amplitudes,
weighted according to the numbers of states I + 1/2 and I – 1/2.
b coh = g +b+coh + g–b –coh ,
in which the statistical weights are
g+ = (I + 1) / (2I + 1)
g– = I / (2I + 1) .
For spin-zero nuclei, I = 0, g- = 0 and b- is irrelevant.
Breit-Wigner Formulas

The coherent scattering cross section is

! coh = 4"acoh = 4"(g +b+coh + g– b –coh) 2 .
The total scattering cross section is the sum of the coherent and
“incoherent” cross sections, and represents the total scattered
intensity for both modes of scattering

in which, for simplicity and according to neutron-scattering

convention we write
b + = b+coh and b – = b –coh .
Breit-Wigner Formulas

The spin-incoherent cross section is

In further expansion of the theory (but not here) it is necessary to

account for isotope incoherence and site incoherence in alloys, etc.
Index of Refraction

When the coherent scattering length density is a complex number

and the reaction cross sections are accounted for, the index of
refraction is a complex number

Here, σx includes the absorption cross section and the incoherent

scattering cross section for each element in the unit of composition

The index of refraction depends on the energy not only through

the λ -dependence in these expressions, but also through the
energy dependence of the scattering lengths and cross sections.
Total Cross Section of 181Ta
Scattering Cross Section of 181Ta
Total Cross Section of 181Ta
Scattering Cross Section of 181Ta
Real Part of Bound-Atom Coherent

Scattering Length of 181Ta

Imaginary Part of Bound-Atom Co-

herent Scattering Length of 181Ta

Real Part of Index of

Refraction of 181Ta

Slide 11
Imaginary Part of Index of

Refraction of 181Ta
Real Part of Index of

Refraction of 181Ta