Friday, June 13, 2014

Shield Your Eyes

Now for something completely different...

I had the most unexpected pleasure of touring the synchrotron at Lawrence Labs arranged through a friend.  In layman's parlance,  the synchrotron is a light factory which beams x-ray strength light at different ranges to be employed in scientific experiments ranging from recreating conditions in the earth's core to uncovering protein structures such as the ebola virus.  Our friend's neighbor Tom has been running the facility for 13+ years and proved a most excellent guide. I'm not used to hard-core science so my poor brain probably absorbed only a fraction of what Tom transmitted so any apologies in advance for incompleteness and errors.

Tom first took us around the end of beamlines- beamlines are vacuum sealed pipes delivering radiation to an experimental endstation as shown above.  If you've ever built your own spectrometer with a cereal box, duct tape and CD, you can see the above setup is altogether a different beast replete with it's own cryostat.  All that wrapped foil is not a scientist's idea of a prank.  The foil actually keeps the heat in for burning out the impurities inside the system in order to create a serious vacuum.

The x-rays are generated as a by-product of electrons racing around a giant ring with bending magnets forcing them to a circular path.   Because the synchrotron was shutdown for maintenance, we were allowed to go inside the normally off-limits storage ring.  I was too agog to take a picture of a wiggler- not the Super Mario critter but magnet arrays that "wiggle" the particle beam.  As a software engineer, I felt a tad jealous that anyone could just walk around and appreciate the complexity and engineering so visually.  I've seen more wires, tubes and shielded boxes today than I have in the sum of my entire life.  I've only visited one another particle accelerator CEBAF when my husband worked there as a young lad long ago but now I'm quite curious to visit a collider.  Yeah science! (I'm only a mild Breaking Bad fan but Mr. White definitely would have drooled over all the crystallography projects going on here. Unfortunately the character died in a shoot out but if he had quit his meth empire while he was ahead, he could have submitted a research proposal for some beam time. )

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