75 Years of Science with Synchrotron Light

The first direct visible observation of synchrotron radiation from a laboratory machine took place in a 70-MeV synchrotron at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York, on the 24th April 1947.

For centuries prior to this, humans had been seeing synchrotron radiation from stars or galaxies without knowing that some of their light resulted from the acceleration of elementary particles in the large magnetic fields associated with astronomical objects.

The 1947 laboratory observation sparked curiosity and, as described in Herbert C. Pollock’s fascinating article ‘The discovery of synchrotron radiation’, led to many visitors coming to see the light including six Nobel prize winners, Klaus Fuchs, the famous Russian spy, and the then actor Ronald Reagan. As with many major scientific milestones, the events surrounding the discovery are peppered with interesting facts including this one from Herbert’s article,

If the 100-MeV betatron had been built with a transparent glass vacuum tube, as was a 70-MeV synchrotron in 1946, synchrotron radiation today would be called betatron radiation.

Herbert H. C. Pollock, “The Discovery of Synchrotron Radiation,” Am J. Phys. 51, No. 3 (1983) 278

Since 1947, the importance of synchrotron light as a scientific tool has been recognised across the globe and there are now more than 60 synchrotron and Free Electron Laser facilities around the world.

Lightsources.org exists to promote the technical and scientific achievements of the light source community and 2022 will be a special year for the collaboration as we mark 75 Years of Science with Synchrotron Light.

Our celebrations include:

  • The creation of a timeline and a collection of achievements from across our 31 member facilities to be shared on the website and social media
  • Our #My1stLight campaign, which invites light source staff and external researchers to send in their memories of first encounters with synchrotron light. Visit our campaign page to see read these memories (more will be added between now and July)
  • A special online symposium to mark 75 Years of Science with Synchrotron Light was held on Thursday 28th April and over 500 people joined us live! You can watch the symposium recording here: – Lightsources.org virtual symposium recording – Lightsources.org

We will be updating this area of the website and sharing the memories, achievements etc across our social media channels so look out for our posts and do get in touch at webmater@lightsources.org if you have any ideas that you would like to discuss with us.