Today we visited the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Upton, New York. Susana was invited to speak at their Brookhaven Women in Science series to teach the BNL scientists about magic in the brain. The BNL is one of the preeminent big science facilities in the world. Since the early 80’s, and funded by the US Department of Energy, BNL has maintained on one of the most widely used scientific facilities in the world: the National Synchrotron Light Source. It’s basically a humongous light generator (usually producing x-ray wavelengths) that can be used to drive multiple physics experiments at once.
Well today they completed their even bigger and better facility which they imaginatively named the National Synchrotron Light Source II. It makes even more x-rays, for bigger experiments, and today just happened to be the day that they first turned it on and saw their first photon. It is truly awesome!
The basic idea is that they accelerate a bunch of electrons around a huge loop using electromagnets. As the magnetic fields force the electrons to turn, these perturbations result in the release of energy from the electrons in the form of photons. So the physicists can set up about 30 experiments around the circumference of the loop, where the x-ray photons are bled off into “beamlines”. The beam is then used for a variety of purposes including examining the minute structures within matter.