Closing the Ring

The steel framework that will house Brookhaven's National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) is almost a complete, nearly half-mile ring after the last piece of structural steel was ceremonially signed yesterday afternoon.

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Construction workers, Brookhaven employees, and elected officials signed the last remaining piece of structural steel for the NSLS-II ring. This milestone is known as "topping out" in the construction industry.

Just how big is this scientific circle? Big enough to fit the playing field of Yankee Stadium inside -- with so much extra room that you might never see a home run.

When complete in 2015 (or, if construction continues at its current accelerated pace, in 2014), NSLS-II will produce ultra-bright and extremely intense light by racing electrons around this massive ring at close to the speed of light, making one rotation about every 2.7 microseconds (millionths of a second). The world record for the 800-meter dash, for comparison, lags at a little longer than 1 minute and 41 seconds.

As these electrons make their high-speed laps, about 375,000 of them every second, they'll emit light of varying wavelengths, from infrared to x-rays. The light will then be directed through "beamlines" to specialized equipment that scientists use to analyze the atomic and electronic structure, chemical composition, and magnetic properties of materials ranging from computer components to catalysts to proteins.

NSLS-II will allow researchers to "see" these details at incredibly tiny scales, possibly even at the level of a single nanometer, or a billionth of a meter.

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The nearly complete NSLS-II ring

Here are a few more fun facts about this giant, electron-powered microscope:

  • To achieve its unprecedented resolution, NSLS-II's electron beam must be very stable, not exceeding a vibration threshold of more than 25 nanometers in either direction. This is 1,000 times smaller than what can be detected by your fingertip.
  • The electrons are guided in their circular path by the powerful magnetic fields produced by 660 large magnets, some more than 13 feet long and weighing more than 6,000 pounds.
  • Cooling the facility will require 2,500 tons of mechanical refrigeration and 1,800 tons of cooling tower capacity.
  • NSLS-II will be constructed from 2,900 tons of structural steel and 41,000 cubic yards of concrete.

You can watch the facility come together via four different webcams.

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