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What is a synchrotron? About the Research

Funded by the National Science Foundation, Wilson Synchrotron laboratory is built atop of a powerful circular particle accelerator named CESR, that produces high-energy, high-power x-ray beams. The CESR x-ray beams are some of the most powerful in the world, with intensities a thousand to a million times greater than those from medical x-ray equipment.

I think CHESS is the perfect environment to do graduate work because you are always learning. One of the most important skill I learned through my work at CHESS was how to keep calm under pressure. With a short amount of time to collect all of the data that you’ll be analyzing until the next beamtime, you need to work efficiently and to be flexible and creative when challenges arise.

Katie Silberstein, Cornell graduate student

Synchrotron light is produced when the electrons change direction around the ring. In synchrotrons, this happens when they are manipulated by bending magnets, or as they pass through insertion devices. At the points where the electrons change direction, they emit a fan of radiation (known as synchrotron light). This radiation branches off the storage ring, and enters laboratories, or ‘beam lines’. Here it is refined with devices such as monochromators and mirrors, before it is shone on the sample, enabling researchers to obtain detailed data about the sample’s structure and behavior (courtesy of Lightsources.org)


Synchrotron Frequently Asked Questions

What year was the Synchrotron built?

The Cornell Synchrotron was built in 1967.

What is CHESS?

A source of very bright X-rays, about a million times brighter than from a laboratory source, also highly collimated, and with tunable energy.

Why use a Synchrotron?

Very powerful X-rays mean that experimenters can get results much faster than with home sources. Small beam size is suitable for small samples (protein crystals are typically about 100 microns across), or for high-resolution imaging of larger objects. Energy tunability is important for some experiments. CHESS has good equipment, and very knowledgeable staff, for collecting data and analyzing results.

How many people come here?

Over 500 users per year. Resulting publications are about 200 per year. Most users are from the Northeast, but some come from farther away, and even from other countries.

How do people get time at CHESS?

Anyone can submit a proposal. Proposals are peer reviewed and ranked for scientific merit. Our users are from both academia and industry and include professors, research staff, post-docs, and lots of grad students.

How many people work at CHESS?

About 60 (includes students and administrative staff)

What is the electric bill to run a synchrotron?

The electric bill is approximately $100,000 a month.

How long do you bake brownies?

Bake for 30-35 minutes. Test with a knife to see if the center is done. If the knife comes out clean, let the brownies rest before serving. If the knife comes out with batter still on it, allow the brownies to bake about 5 minutes more.

Are there other facilities like CHESS?

Yes, about a half dozen in the U.S. and another 30 or so world-wide.

How big is the ring?

About half a mile (786 m) in circumference, 40 feet (12 m) underground

How many stations are there?

6 beamlines, 12 stations.

Are the X-rays dangerous?

They would be if you were exposed to a direct X-ray beam. However, that doesn't happen because the hutches are well shielded and everything is carefully interlocked to keep people safe. Experiments are run from outside the hutches using computer control. And there are many radiation monitors around, which will shut off the beam if necessary.

National Science Foundation

Xraise is supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of General Medical Sciences under NSF award DMR-1332208.

CHESS is operated and managed for the National Science Foundation by Cornell University.