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9/24/96

CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (415) 723-2558


SSRL receives added support to extend operations

STANFORD -- The Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) has increased its operations from six to nine months per year and is adding new staff and installing new equipment that will upgrade its usefulness for studying environmental contaminants.

The changes result from a new Department of Energy program called the Science Facilities Initiative. The Energy Department operates SSRL, which is used by scientists and engineers from academia, industry and government. Many such DOE-funded facilities, including SSRL, have suffered significant erosion in their operating budgets in recent years and, as a result, have been unable to operate full time, have reduced the support they provided to their users, and have deferred equipment maintenance and upgrades.

The new initiative has added $4.3 million to bring SSRL's total operating budget up to $22.1 million annually. This has allowed the lab to increase its scheduled operations from six to about nine months, with the remaining time being used for beam line installation, accelerator improvements and a variety of smaller tasks. To ensure good user support, and to maintain and upgrade the lab equipment and instrumentation, approximately 15 new staff members have been hired to date.

For 15 years SSRL, which is located at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, has pioneered the scientific use of high-energy X-rays called synchrotron radiation. The brightest source of X-rays available on Earth, this radiation is produced as a byproduct of the operation of large particle accelerators. The first hardware that allowed scientists to produce synchrotron X-rays at a variety of frequencies and luminosities without interfering with the accelerator's basic operation was designed and tested at SLAC in the 1970s. Since then, synchrotron radiation has become a valuable scientific resource because it can be used to investigate atomic and molecular structures. Research at SSRL, for example, has provided an improved way to image heart vessels, revealed the three-dimensional structure of key proteins and enzymes, and provided unparalleled details of the metallic impurities that compromise the performance of computer chips.

Last year, more than 1,000 researchers from 153 institutions used the laboratory. The increased operating time will allow the laboratory to support additional users and to reduce substantially the time that they must wait to do their experiments. But demand will remain greater than SSRL's capacity.

The laboratory also intends to make a series of upgrades designed to increase the reliability of the accelerator and to improve the stability and brightness of the X-ray beams. Higher speed computer workstations are being installed to provide added capabilities for experiment control and analysis of data in real time. Work has begun to enhance the capacity of the laboratory's computer network, improving researchers' access to its central computers and the speed with which they can send data to their home institutions via the Internet.

In addition, the facilities initiative provides individual awards for specific projects. This year SSRL received two such grants, both designed to improve the laboratory's capability for studying environmental subjects. Environmental science is one of the fastest growing types of research being conducted at the laboratory.

c Gordon E. Brown Jr., professor of geological and environmental sciences, will receive $781,000 over three years. The funding will provide new state-of-the-art detectors for the environmental science program at SSRL. The detectors will allow researchers to measure extremely low concentrations of contaminants in environmental samples.

c Arthur I. Bienenstock, associate director of SSRL, will receive $400,000 over two years to construct a controlled-environment laboratory enclosure for studies of radioactive and toxic materials. This will enable the facility to conduct studies needed to address waste management problems.

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