At first glance the story of the Intense Pulsed Neutron Source (IPNS), an accelerator-driven neutron source for exploring the structure of materials through neutron scattering, seems to be one of puzzling ups and downs. For example, Argonne management, Department of Energy officials, and materials science reviewers continued to offer, then withdraw, votes of confidence even though the middling-sized IPNS produced high-profile research, including work that made the cover of Nature in 1987. In the midst of this period of shifting opinion and impressive research results, some Argonne materials scientists were unenthusiastic, members of the laboratory's energy physics group were key supporters, and materials scientists at another laboratory provided, almost fortuitously, a new lease on life. What forces shaped the puzzling life cycle of the IPNS? And what role——if any——did the moderate price tag and the development of scientific and technological ideas play in the course it took?
To answer these questions this paper looks to an ecosystem metaphor for inspiration, exploring how opinions, ideas, and machinery emerged from the interrelated resource economies of Argonne, the DOE, and the materials science community by way of a tangled web of shifting group interactions. The paper will conclude with reflections about what the resulting focus on relationality explains about the IPNS story as well as the underlying dynamic that animates knowledge production at U.S. national laboratories.