A little more than one year ago, on the day of its groundbreaking ceremony, the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) construction site was nothing more than a whole lot of dirt. Today, it’s…well, take a look for yourself.

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The NSLS-II construction site on the day of the groundbreaking ceremony, June 15, 2009, and…

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…exactly one year later

Construction is quickly progressing on the $912 million facility, which will be the world’s most brilliant light source. Eh, what’s a “light source?” Basically, it’s a particle accelerator that, in a controlled manner, sheds light of wavelengths and intensities useful to numerous scientific studies. (Details on NSLS-II’s Superman-like abilities later).

At any rate, the giant ring — a half-mile racetrack where electrons will zip around at close to the speed of light — is now taking shape, and overall, 30 percent of the construction work is complete. By next spring, the number of construction workers on site will double to 400. At this rate, the project will be ready for beam by February 2014 – 16 months ahead of schedule.

NSLS-II will be the successor to Brookhaven’s currently operating light source — bet you can guess the name — the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS). About 2,200 researchers from around the world visit NSLS each year to use its bright beams of x-ray, ultraviolet, and infrared light (produced by the circulating beam of electrons and tuned by specialized magnets, instrumentation, and optics) to study a wide range of materials.

The electronic properties of fuel cell catalysts, the atomic structure of a ribosome, the elemental composition of soil and water samples — even painted-over portraits first put on canvas hundreds of years ago — you name it, there’s a good chance it’s been studied here.

But as the NSLS enters its late 20s, researchers want to take their experiments to the next level. To probe even smaller, subtler details of their samples, scientists need more intense, better-focused light. NSLS-II will deliver world-leading intensity and brightness, producing x-rays 10,000 times brighter than the current NSLS. In fact, its x-ray brightness and resolution will exceed all other light sources, existing and under construction.

One of the most attractive capabilities of NSLS-II is the ability to image materials down to a nanometer, one billionth of a meter — a capability not available at any other light source in the world. These properties will allow scientists to delve deeper into the mysteries of high-temperature superconductors, the self-assembly of nanomaterials, molecular electronics, and numerous other aspects of physics, chemistry, and biology.

Can’t wait until 2014? You can watch NSLS-II take shape live (or through time lapse) from one of four webcams positioned around the site.

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