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Improvements in the available flux at neutron sources are making it increasingly feasible to obtain refineable neutron diffraction data from samples smaller than 1 mm3. The signal is typically too weak to introduce any further sample environment in the 30–50 mm diameter surrounding the sample (such as the walls of a pressure cell) due to the high ratio of background to sample signal, such that even longer count times fail to reveal reflections from the sample. Many neutron instruments incorporate collimators to reduce parasitic scattering from the instrument and from any surrounding material and larger pieces of sample environment, such as cryostats. However, conventional collimation is limited in the volume it can focus on due to difficulties in producing tightly spaced neutron-absorbing foils close to the sample and in integrating this into neutron instruments. Here we present the design of a novel compact 3D rapid-prototyped (or “printed”) collimator which reduces these limitations and is shown to improve the ratio of signal to background, opening up the feasibility of using additional sample environment for neutron diffraction from small sample volumes. The compactness and ease of customisation of the design allows this concept to be integrated with existing sample environment and with designs that can be tailored to individual detector geometries without the need to alter the setup of the instrument. Results from online testing of a prototype collimator are presented. The proof of concept shows that there are many additional collimator designs which may be manufactured relatively inexpensively, with a broad range of customisation, and geometries otherwise impossible to manufacture by conventional techniques.


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