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About Photon Sciences

The human eye can see only visible light. It comes in the form of different wavelengths. These wavelengths are what create the colors of the rainbow. Other wavelengths of lights are not visible to the human eye. Although, we cannot see them, these types of light are also used in our everyday life. For example, a TV remote control uses infrared light to adjust the volume or change the channel of the TV. Airport scanners use x-rays to scan luggage. Tanning lamps use ultraviolet light to tan the skin. Microwave ovens use microwaves to cook your food.

A synchrotron is a huge machine that produces very bright light of many different wavelengths. The light is much brighter than that found in your TV remote, microwave oven, or dentist’s x-ray machine because the synchrotron beams of light are focused into very small spots. Think of a synchrotron as a giant microscope, allowing us to see matter at the atomic scale.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is building a state-of-the-art research facility, National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II). As one of the world’s most advanced synchrotron light sources, NSLS-II will foster groundbreaking scientific advances.

Brookhaven’s existing synchrotron, NSLS, draws about 2,200 researchers each year from 400 universities, government labs, and companies to study a wide range of materials, from computer chips to biological molecules.

To probe even smaller details of their samples, scientists need ultra-intense, highly focused light. NSLS-II is the only light source that will allow scientists to image materials down to a nanometer, one billionth of a meter.

NSLS-II will help scientists develop new materials with advanced properties. It will yield discoveries that will ultimately enhance national security and help drive the development of abundant, safe, and clean energy technologies.

NSLS-II construction began in 2009, creating jobs and stimulating the economy. Thanks in part to $150 million in Recovery Act funding, NSLS-II will be ready for beam in 2014, more than a year ahead of schedule.

How does a synchrotron work?

The synchrotron produces light by accelerating electrons almost to the speed of light. Magnets put the electrons into circular paths. As the electrons turn, photons (little packets) of light are given off. The light, in the form of infrared, ultraviolet, and x-ray light, is sent down pipes called beamlines to areas where scientists run their experiments.

Here are the major parts of the machine:

  • An injector complex (electron gun, linear accelerator, and booster ring) that generates and accelerates the electrons
  • A storage ring that circulates electrons while they radiate synchrotron light
  • Beamlines that transport this light to user experiments

When the bright light of a synchrotron is aimed at a very small sample, an image of the sample’s properties is created on a detector. This image is sent to a computer for analysis of the sample's molecular structure.

What's up with all the aluminum foil?

Aluminum Foil
Aluminum foil is everywhere at NSLS. We use aluminum foil the way you would use it at home – for baking. The only difference is that we’re not baking potatoes! The storage rings where the electrons circulate have to be free of gas molecules so that the electrons don’t bump into them. To do this, we first heat up the rings to get any molecules inside moving and then use vacuum pumps to pull them out. The foil helps keep everything warm.

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Fast Facts

  • NSLS began operating in 1982.
  • The facility runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and over 250 days a year.
  • More than 2,000 scientists visit NSLS each year to perform their experiments.
  • NSLS has 59 beamlines: 48 on the X-Ray Ring and 11 on the Vacuum Ultraviolet Ring.
  • The NSLS injection system accelerates electrons to 99.99995 percent the speed of light.
  • NSLS operates on a budget of about $37 million a year.
  • About 136 people work at NSLS. Here is a breakdown by job categories:
    • Scientists – 19 percent
    • Professionals (including engineers) – 23 percent
    • Technicians – 43 percent
    • Support staff – 15 percent.
  • Hundreds of pounds of aluminum foil are used to help bake off impurities in the storage rings and beamlines.
  • NSLS-II will be 10,000 times brighter than Brookhaven's existing National Synchrotron Light Source.
  • When built to full capacity, NSLS-II will have approximately 60 beamlines.
  • NSLS-II will have a very large footprint. Its main ring will have a circumference of 792 meters – nearly half a mile. You could fit the playing field of Yankee Stadium inside the NSLS2 ring, with so much extra room that you might never see a homerun!
  • In one second, each electron will circle the ring about 375,000 times – that’s more than 99 percent of the speed of light.
  • NSLS-II will draw up to 20 megawatts of power, or as much as needed to power about 300,000 light bulbs or 4,000 homes.
  • Cooling the facility will require 2,500 tons of mechanical refrigeration and 1,800 tons of cooling tower capacity.
  • NSLS-II will be constructed from 2,900 tons of steel and 41,000 cubic yards of concrete.
  • The completed NSLS-II facility will have 600,000 square feet of space.