Advanced Light Source upgrade approved to start construction

Berkeley Lab’s biggest project in three decades now moves from planning to execution. The ALS upgrade will make brighter beams for research into new materials, chemical reactions, and biological processes.

The Advanced Light Source (ALS), a scientific user facility at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), has received federal approval to start construction on an upgrade that will boost the brightness of its X-ray beams at least a hundredfold.

“The ALS upgrade is an amazing engineering undertaking that is going to give us an even more powerful scientific tool,” said Berkeley Lab Director Michael Witherell. “I can’t wait to see the many ways researchers use it to improve the world and tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society today.”

Scientists will use the upgraded ALS for research spanning biology; chemistry; physics; and materials, energy, and environmental sciences. The brighter, more laser-like light will help experts better understand what’s happening at extremely small scales as reactions and processes take place. These insights can have a huge array of applications, such as improving batteries and clean energy technologies, creating new materials for sensors and computing, and investigating biological matter to develop better medicines.

“That’s the wonderful thing about the ALS: The applications are so broad and the impact is so profound,” said Dave Robin, the project director for the ALS upgrade. “What really excites me every day is knowing that, when it’s complete, the ALS upgrade will enable researchers to make scientific advances in many different areas for the next 30 to 40 years.”

The DOE approval, known as Critical Decision 3 (CD-3), formally releases funds for purchasing, building, and installing upgrades to the ALS. This includes constructing an entirely new storage ring and accumulator ring, building four feature (two new and two upgraded) beamlines, and installing seismic and shielding upgrades for the concrete structure housing the equipment. The $590 million project is the biggest investment at Berkeley Lab since the ALS was built in 1993.

Read more on the Berkeley Laboratory website

Image: The upgrade to the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley Lab will add two new particle accelerator rings within the iconic building’s footprint. 

Credit: Thor Swift/Berkeley Lab

Experiment reveals new options for synchrotron light sources

An international team has shown through a sensational experiment how diverse the possibilities for employing synchrotron light sources are. Accelerator experts from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB), the German federal metrology institute Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), and Tsinghua University in Beijing have used a laser to manipulate electron bunches at PTB’s Metrology Light Source so that they emitted intense light pulses having a laser-like character. Using this method, specialised synchrotron radiation sources would potentially be able to fill a gap in the arsenal of available light sources and offer a prototype for industrial applications. The work was published on 24 February 2021 in the leading scientific publication Nature.

The most modern light sources for research are based on particle accelerators. These are large facilities in which electrons are accelerated to almost the speed of light, and then emit light pulses of a special character. In storage-ring-based synchrotron radiation sources, the electron bunches travel in the ring for billions of revolutions, then generate a rapid succession of very bright light pulses in the deflecting magnets. In contrast, the electron bunches in free-electron lasers (FELs) are accelerated linearly and then emit a single super-bright flash of laser-like light. Storage ring sources as well as FEL sources have facilitated advances in many fields in recent years, from deep insights into biological and medical questions to materials research, technology development, and quantum physics.

Combining the virtues of both systems

Now a Sino-German team has shown that a pattern of pulses can be generated in a synchrotron radiation source that combines the advantages of both systems. The synchrotron source delivers short, intense microbunches of electrons that produce radiation pulses having a laser-like character (as with FELs), but which can also follow each other closely in sequence (as with synchrotron light sources).

Read more on the HZB website

Image credit: © Tsinghua University