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Since the National Synchrotron Light Source came online in 1982, it has become one of the world’s most widely used scientific facilities. In the three decades that NSLS has been operating, over 19,000 users have done countless experiments using its beams of light in the x-ray, ultraviolet, and infrared wavelengths, leading to many discoveries and two Nobel Prizes.

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The following article by Liz Seubert recapping the history of NSLS design is reprinted from The Bulletin, May 25, 2007. NSLS celebrated 25 years of operations that year. Also in 2007, Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials opened for business and the U.S. Department of Energy granted Critical Decision 1 status to NSLS-II, assuring the facility’s location at Brookhaven.

Then & Now — the NSLS Designers

Ever since BNL’s National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) came online in 1982, it has made possible countless research findings and breakthroughs in new investigative techniques. Some of the latest of these were among the topics of the NSLS and Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) Users’ Meeting held earlier this week. Among other highlights of the meeting were the CFN ribbon-cutting ceremony and an overview of the plans and designs for NSLS-II, the proposed next generation light source recently approved by DOE.

NSLS designers

From left: Ken Green, Martin Blume, and Renate Chasman

Now, therefore, when intense research and development on NSLS-II is consuming many accelerator physicists at BNL and elsewhere, it is appropriate to look back to 1976-77, when two brilliant BNL Accelerator Department physicists were designing the NSLS. Ken Green, known for his early work on the Cosmotron and for managing the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS) construction project, was Design Manager. Renate Chasman, who had been the chief theorist for the AGS linac injector, was Theory Division Head. As principals of a design committee chaired by Martin Blume, then of the Physics Department [later, BNL Deputy Director, then American Physical Review Editor-in-Chief 1997-2007] they worked closely with others including Chalmers Frazer and Dick Watson of Physics; Jules Godel and Morris Perlman of the Chemistry Department; and John Blewett, Director’s Office.

Synchrotron radiation is the electromagnetic radiation emitted by a rapidly moving charged particle when it moves in a curved path. In 1976, a National Research Council panel funded by DOE’s predecessor, the Energy Research & Development Administration (ERDA), and the National Science Foundation to assess its use reported that “structural studies using synchrotron radiation will have a dramatic impact in biology, chemistry, and the physical sciences as well as on research and diagnostic applications relevant to the nation’s energy, environmental, and communication technologies.”

Martin Blume

Martin Blume

In a July 1976 Brookhaven Bulletin article, Blume explained some of the history of synchrotron radiation, which was first studied at the turn of the 1900s in connection with the motion of electrons around the nucleus in an atom. Then, in the 1940s, when electron synchrotrons were built, it was found that the radiation emitted by the electrons made it difficult to accelerate them because the radiated energy had to be replaced.

BNL’s John Blewett, credited as the experimental discoverer of synchrotron radiation, perceived it during his work at General Electric just after World War II. His discovery rekindled interest in the topic. Pioneering experiments in solid state physics were done at Cornell University and at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS); electron storage rings, such as SPEAR at Stanford University, followed. The first machine dedicated to using these rings was an ultraviolet ring at the University of Wisconsin. By June 1976, when BNL sent ERDA the proposal to build the NSLS, synchrotron light was being used at Cornell, the NBS, and SPEAR.

BNL’s 1976 proposal described a facility of two electron storage rings, which would produce electromagnetic radiation to use in experiments. The large, 2 GeV ring had provision for about 40 x-ray beam ports, and the smaller, 700 MeV ring provided for about 16 ultraviolet beam ports.

The basic accelerator storage rings at the NSLS were innovative structures capable of very high synchrotron light brightness, which were to hold the world record for brightness for many years. They were designed by Chasman and Green, who both died in 1977. At the time of Green’s death, said Blewett in the Brookhaven Bulletin of August 19, 1977, “Ken was deeply involved in every detail of the NSLS construction, including magnet design, vacuum technique, electronics, soil mechanics, building design and staff organization.”

van Steenbergen

Arie van Steenbergen

In September, Lab Director George Vineyard then named Arie van Steenbergen Head of the NSLS Construction Project. Renate Chasman died in October. Blewett commented on her NSLS contributions: “For some time, Rena and the late Ken Green were the whole team doing this design. The results of their work were quite remarkable; a design emerged which was a vast improvement on similar designs being evolved elsewhere in the world. Other machine designs were based on electron storage rings built for use in high energy physics. Rena recognized the different requirements for this machine and devised an arrangement of components peculiarly suited for use as a light source. Many other problems associated with the light source and its special components were solved either by Rena alone or in association with others who later joined the project.”

The brilliant achievements of Chasman and Green are remembered around the world. Also, at BNL, the Renate W. Chasman Scholarship for Women is awarded annually to qualified candidates in science, engineering, or mathematics.

The National Synchrotton Light Source: A History

In these articles, originally printed in Physics in Perspective, science historian Robert Crease covers the conception, design, and planning of the NSLS up to its groundbreaking.

Ken Green

Bright Idea

The National Synchrotron Light Source was the first facility designed and built specifically for producing and exploiting synchrotron radiation. It was also the first facility to incorporate the Chasman-Green lattice for maximizing brightness. The NSLS was officially proposed in 1976 and its groundbreaking took place in 1978. Its construction was a key episode in Brookhaven’s history, in the transition of synchrotron radiation from a novelty to a commodity, and in the transition of synchrotron-radiation scientists from parasitic to autonomous researchers. Full Article (PDF)

First light

The Bakeout

The NSLS had its groundbreaking in 1978. The story of its construction illustrates many of the tensions and risks involved in building a large scientific facility in a highly politicized environment: risking a facility’s quality by underfunding it versus asking for more funding and risking not getting it; focusing on meeting time and budget promises that risk compromising machine performance versus focusing on performance and risking cancellation; and the pros and cons of a pragmatic versus an analytic approach to commissioning.
Full article (PDF)