ITHACA, N.Y. — The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded
Cornell University $18 million to begin development of a new,
advanced synchrotron radiation x-ray source, called an Energy
Recovery Linac (ERL). The ERL, based on accelerator physics and
superconducting microwave technology in which Cornell’s Laboratory of
Elementary Particle Physics (LEPP) is a world leader, will enable
investigations of matter that are impossible to perform with existing
X-ray sources.

“The X-ray beams produced by the new source will be roughly a
thousand times better in brightness, coherence and pulse duration
than currently is possible,” said Sol Gruner, Cornell professor of
physics, who is the principal investigator of the ERL project.

The NSF award to Cornell funds prototyping of critical components of
the ERL at Cornell’s Wilson Synchrotron Laboratory. According to
Maury Tigner, LEPP director and co-principal investigator on the
project, the design of the prototype is nearly completed. Scientists
from the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, a U.S.
Department of Energy facility in Newport News, Va., worked with
Cornell on the initial design. Prototype construction and testing is
expected to be completed in 2008. Cornell then will seek funding for
a full-scale ERL facility.

The facility will be a major upgrade of Cornell’s current
national-user synchrotron radiation facility, The Cornell High Energy
Synchrotron Source (CHESS), which provides service to scientists and
technologists from around the world, as well as for many departments
at Cornell. The ERL will have value across the board, Gruner said,
from research in biology and medicine to materials science and
nanotechnology development.

The extreme brightness produced by the ERL’s synchrotron radiation
will make it possible to determine the structure of cells and
biological molecules that cannot be determined with current sources;
this is information that is essential to the pharmaceutical industry.
The ERL also will make possible new study of advanced materials on a
nanoscale, giving more insight into how to make stronger metals and
composites, better drug delivery systems and more efficient
optoelectronics. And the very fast pulses will make it possible to
follow the structural changes that happen during important chemical
reactions, both of life and chemical manufacturing processes.Cornell
constructed the world’s first beam line to study synchrotron
radiation in the early 1950s. Today, CHESS, which is directed by
Gruner, is one of five national hard X-ray synchrotron radiation
facilities funded by the NSF and the National Institutes of Health
and is the only such facility in the United States located on a
central university campus.