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Scientific Opportunities

NSLS fosters research in many areas, mainly categorized according to the topics in the synchrotron “science villages” concept, a scientist-supported approach to synchrotron design in which beamlines are clustered according to the research performed there.

NSLS-II – with brighter light and cutting-edge tools and techniques – will offer even more opportunities in these fields.


Biology and Soft Matter Science

Synchrotron light sources are an excellent place to study biological samples, from whole cells to large biological molecules. The properties of synchrotron light make it possible to reveal very detailed information without immediately damaging the sample.

One major thrust of biological and soft-matter research at synchrotron facilities is protein crystallography, which uses x-rays to see the crystal structure of proteins and other biological molecules. Other research focuses on using x-rays to image tissue and cells, and to “watch” biological processes that occur on very short time scales, such as protein folding. The information learned from these fundamental studies is used to design drugs and treatments for disease, to predict and detect disease, and to understand the vast array of biological processes that govern life.

This important research cannot continue to advance, however, without x-rays that are far brighter and more focused than those currently available at any other light source worldwide. X-rays at NSLS-II will lead the world in brightness, opening up many new research pathways in the biological sciences and drawing in the best biological and medical researchers.

Synchrotrons are also ideal for studying soft materials, such as polymers and liquid crystals, which are pointing researchers in exciting new directions in the fundamental physics and chemistry of materials. Soft materials have many novel technological applications, such as flexible displays, information storage media, biomedical materials, and drug delivery agents. The ultra-bright, ultra-focused x-ray beams produced at NSLS-II will be essential to gaining the knowledge that will make these new technologies possible.

See the links below for more information on biological and soft-matter research at NSLS and NSLS-II [link to existing material on NSLS-II website]:

Chemical Science and Catalysis

At the current NSLS, chemists use x-rays to study catalysis, which is a huge part of many industries, such as petroleum and pharmaceuticals. NSLS-II will be major draw for the scientists who perform this research.

Catalysis changes the rates at which chemical bonds are formed and broken, and controls the yields of chemical reactions to increase the amounts of desirable products and reduce the amounts of undesirable ones. Today, approximately one third of the U.S. gross national product in materials involves a catalytic process somewhere in the production chain. The proportion of processes using catalysts in the chemical industry is 80 percent and increasing. Catalysis also plays a crucial role in pollution control and alternative energy technologies.

Synchrotron radiation facilities provide unique and powerful tools for characterizing the temporal and spatial evolution of working catalysts. The properties of catalysts can be studied using a wide range of x-ray techniques, such as x-ray powder and/or single-crystal diffraction, small-angle x-ray scattering, and many x-ray spectroscopy methods.

At NSLS-II, there will be a focus on studies in energy science, as its brilliant x-rays will be ideal for characterizing the functions of catalysts and the behavior of potential new materials, in order to develop better electrical power lines, batteries, solar cells, and hydrogen energy systems.

Condensed Matter and Materials Physics

Condensed matter physics deals with the macroscopic physical properties of matter. In particular, it is concerned with “condensed” phases, which occur when the number of constituents in a system is extremely large and the interactions between the constituents are strong. The most familiar examples of condensed phases are solids and liquids, but more exotic condensed phases include the superfluid and the Bose-Einstein condensate found in certain atomic systems at very low temperatures, superconductivity, and the magnetic phases of spins on atomic lattices.

NSLS supports a very strong materials physics user base. At NSLS-II, these scientists will be able to enhance and broaden their research. The new facility will allow for breakthroughs in the studies of condensed matter materials and their behaviors, focusing on strongly correlated electron systems and magnetism, which are described in greater detail in the links below.

Environmental and Heterogeneous Materials Science

Studies of the Earth's environment and its heterogeneous materials – rocks, soil, sediment, etc. – have yielded invaluable information about how Earth formed and how contaminants are distributed via chemical, physical, and environmental processes.

At NSLS, scientists use synchrotron light to discover information about the chemical make-up and behavior of geological materials and to model and understand how our environment functions, both at the macro and micro scales. The information they can learn here is not obtainable in ordinary laboratories.

Through NSLS-II, geologists and environmental scientists will gain the tools they need to further enhance their research – to study our planet in greater depth than ever before and, as a result, learn how to protect it.

Materials Science and Engineering

If your focus is materials science, you will find exciting research opportunities at Brookhaven’s synchrotron facilities. These tools, particularly at NSLS-II, are ideal for studying the growth and processing of advanced materials, ranging from single crystals to thin films to nanostructures. It is clear that in-situ studies, like those possible at synchrotrons, will play a central role in understanding synthesis routes and characterizing the samples produced.

NSLS-II will take materials scientists beyond the study of static surfaces and make the study of dynamically evolving surfaces and interfaces – critical to understanding and optimizing the growth of materials – practical and, indeed, routine.

For more information on advanced materials growth at NSLS-II, click here [link to “Advanced Materials Growth” page, available from NSLS-II Materials & Chemical Sciences page].


Nanoscience is one of the most dynamic and rapidly developing areas of interdisciplinary research. It addresses the unique physical and chemical properties of nanometer-sized (less than 100 nm) materials and phenomena occurring at the nanoscale. It provides a natural link between physical sciences and life sciences, since nanometer length scales also characterize molecular machines and the basic building blocks in living organisms.

The excitement in nanoscience is driven not only by the potential to revolutionize a wide range of scientific and technical fields, but also the possible economic and societal impact. Synchrotron-based research will play an important role in this movement.

In order to understand, and eventually design, the properties of materials at the nanoscale, many materials synthesis, manipulation, characterization, and modeling/simulation tools need to be developed. In the area of characterization, over the last two decades a wide range of synchrotron radiation-based diffraction, scattering, spectroscopy, and imaging tools have been developed for materials research. These tools have increased our understanding of bulk materials, thin films, surfaces, and interfaces by revealing atomic-resolution structures and unique electronic, chemical, and magnetic information.

There is a compelling need to extend the reach of these synchrotron-based tools to the nanoscale to obtain essential information that is not accessible with scanning probes and electron microscopy. This requires the high brightness of NSLS-II. It will enable these techniques to be applied on nanometer-length scales by allowing the development of novel full-field x-ray imaging techniques and by focusing x-rays down to 10 nm or below. This unprecedented combination will clearly enable completely new experiments. For example, one can imagine performing in-situ experiments on a single nanometer-sized catalyst in actual reaction conditions or performing x-ray experiments on a single carbon nanotube while electric current is passing through the nanotube.

NSLS-II will be a key complement to Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN). The synergy of these two facilities will be especially critical in developing clean and affordable energy technologies, the global challenge of the century. Because nanomaterials have different chemical and physical properties than bulk materials, the study and design of materials at the nanoscale can potentially address the energy challenge. Understanding these properties will allow scientists to tailor materials for specific uses.