Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Synchrotron

Just wanted to mention my university alumni event and synchrotron visit from last week. I arrived a bit late for most of the alumni event, but did manage to catch up with some people. My former supervisor contrived not to be present, but at least I was saved that trauma.

The synchrotron visit was excellent. Basically (very basically), it's an electron accelerator that leverages the fact that when electrons bend they emit other particles/waves, such as X-rays etc. Electrons are accelerated at around the speed of light, forced to travel in a circle by huge electro-magnets. At certain locations in the ring, a line of the emitted particles is harnessed into a 'beam line', which is then used to perform scientific experiments. The Melbourne synchrotron has 5 operating beam lines, each set up to do a particular kind of experiment (e.g. powder diffraction, wide angle X-ray diffraction, infrared spectroscopy), with another 4 under construction.
The key thing with the synchrotron is the precision and efficiency of the beam line experiments. Our tour was pitched at a fairly technical level, which both challenged and stimulated me. I felt little (controllable) tingles at the thought of using such instruments for research.

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