A synchrotron can be thought of as a very powerful microscope due to its bright light source. Generally, a synchrotron facility has two large circular rings of magnets. In the central ring, electrons are accelerated to nearly the speed of light using radiofrequency waves. Electrons traveling at almost the speed of light are stored in the outer (storage) ring.
The Canadian Light Source’s (CLS) storage ring is one of the smallest modern facilities, with a circumference of about 170 meters; some have circumferences in the kilometer range. When the relativistic electrons (electrons near the speed of light) are deflected in this storage ring, they give off light which is about one million times brighter than the sun. This light, called synchrotron light contains all the wavelengths from infrared to visible to high energy (“hard”) X-rays.
Each beamline selects a very specific bandwidth from the storage ring beam, depending on the application. For example, Infrared can be used to measure chemical and structural characteristics and hard X-rays can be used to measure trace metals and to image samples for structural make-up.
At the CLS, there are currently 14 beamlines operating with 7 more under construction. Because of the brilliance of synchrotrons, they can be used to characterize matter in-situ, at the micron to the angstrom (atomic) level. Thus, synchrotrons currently play a predominant role in aerospace, pharmaceuticals, automotive, medical and materials sciences.
Canada’s only synchrotron, CLS, is located at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. There are approximately 47 synchrotrons around the world, with approximately 8 in each of Europe, United States and Japan.