What is a Synchrotron and what is it for?

Synchrotron machine illustration

‘Image courtesy of the Australian Synchrotron’.

Last week, as part of the CSIRO Scientists in Schools program, I was lucky enough to go on a tour of the Australian Synchrotron.





“Wow!” I hear you say, “That is amazing..but..Mrs Parrington, what is a Synchrotron and what does it do?”

Well, in very simple terms, a Synchrotron is a machine that speeds up really small particles called electrons until they are going nearly as fast as the speed of light. When electrons this fast go around corners, they produce light. This light is then used by scientists to do all sorts of experiments including medical research, forensic science and minerals exploration (amongst lots of other things!) It is an amazing machine.

In a recent article in Australasian Science called “Looking on the Bright Side” it explains that:

If you take a bunch of high-speed electrons and apply a powerful magnetic field to make them move in a curve rather than a straight line, they will give off light – extremely intense light known as synchrotron light. It’s a natural phenomenon we can observe in interstellar space, but this bright light can also be made on earth. For more information and to have a look at the article, click here.

For some more information, have a look at the What is a Synchrotron? webpage here.

The URL for their homepage is: http://www.synchrotron.org.au/