P.O. Box 5000
Upton, NY 11973-5000
phone 631 344-2345
fax 631 344-3368
managed for the U.S. Department of Energy
by Brookhaven Science Associates, a company
founded by Stony Brook University and Battelle
Backgrounder on the
National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS)
The NSLS is a user facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory that provides very intense x-rays (as well as a variety of other wavelengths of electromagnetic energy) to scientists from universities and companies around the United States and from other parts of the world. At its core is a magnetic ring, about the size of a baseball diamond, which circulates highly accelerated electrons. As the electrons accelerate around the ring, they radiate x-rays tangential to the ring. The emitted x-rays are focused into experimental stations at the ends of beamlines.
These beamlines provide x-rays that are much brighter than those generated by an x-ray generator in a doctor's office or in a typical university laboratory. The wavelength of an x-ray is about 0.0000000001 meters, which is about 5000 times shorter than the wavelength of visible light. X-ray wavelengths are about the size of atoms, which makes them particularly well suited for investigating atomic and molecular structures that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. Using bright synchrotron beams allows scientists to investigate very small samples that would otherwise be very difficult to investigate in a normal laboratory. Such studies are of great value in a variety of fields of research, including biology, medical science, environmental science, materials science, chemistry, and physics.
In biology, one field of research that has yielded increasingly fruitful results over the last half century is x-ray crystallography of biological macromolecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids. For these studies, scientists grow crystals of purified biomolecules, similar to crystals of table salt, but much more complex in their three-dimensional molecular structures. X-ray crystallography experiments allow scientists to apply knowledge of computers, math, physics, chemistry, and biology to determine molecular structures at atomic resolution and to try to understand how such molecules function. These studies can be of practical importance, for example, in the design of pharmaceutical agents to treat diseases such as AIDS and cancer.
Beamline X25, where the Rockefeller University team collected data to help decipher the structure of a voltage-gated ion channel protein, is one of about nine beamlines at the NSLS designed to facilitate x-ray crystallography experiments on biological macromolecules. X25 is among the brightest beamlines in the eastern U.S. It helps to facilitate experiments for researchers from around the world, including those from roughly 100 Northeastern US academic, government, industrial, and private foundation institutions where cutting edge structural biology research and biotechnology development are pursued, all within driving distance of Brookhaven.