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About the National Synchrotron Light Source


When the National Synchrotron Light Source came online in 1982, it became one of the world’s most widely used scientific facilities. Across more than three decades of operation, over 19,000 users conducted experiments using its beams of x-ray, ultraviolet, and infrared light, leading to many discoveries and two Nobel Prizes. NSLS ended operations in 2014 to make way for its more powerful successor facility, NSLS-II. See the NSLS 30-year history timeline.

Powerful Light, Diverse Research

Since the intensity of synchrotron light can be 10,000 times greater than conventional beams generated in a laboratory, scientists use these beams to gain information about the electronic and atomic structures of materials, analyze very small samples, or study surfaces at the atomic level.

Researchers at the NSLS used an array of sophisticated imaging techniques to get highly detailed “pictures” of a wide variety of materials, from biological molecules to semiconductor devices.

In conjunction with the Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, the NSLS provided researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to probe the unique properties of matter at an extremely small scale -- the nanoscale. Nanoparticles, particles with dimensions on the order of billionths of a meter, could have revolutionary impacts, from more efficient energy generation and data storage to improved methods for diagnosing and treating disease.

Experiments at the NSLS

Scientists have used the NSLS to study:

  • The chemical origins of nerve impulses, the electrical activity that underlies all movement sensation, and perhaps even thought - work that led to the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
  • The crystal structure of new materials, such as high-temperature superconductors and “nanomaterials,” that may lead to advanced electronic devices
  • Material dredged from the Port of New York/New Jersey, to determine the nature of pollutants in the sediment
  • The chemical composition of bones, which may aid in the understanding of arthritis and osteoporosis
  • Electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries, with the aim of improving their performance
  • Techniques to make smaller, faster computer chips
  • How the microstructure of magnetic recording media relates to the performance of the device
  • How the size of gold nanoparticles affects their efficiency as a catalyst.
Photo of students at NSLS

Students prepare a biological crystal sample for study at an NSLS beamline