This past week, Dr. Wood Chiang and Trevor Reay, an Electrical Engineering student here at BYU, had the unique opportunity to conduct research at Brookhaven National Lab in Long Island, New York in collaboration with Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Brookhaven National Lab features the National Synchrotron Light Source II (the brightest synchrotron in the United States), which provides capabilities for x-ray imaging and high-resolution energy analysis. The synchrotron allows materials to be studied with nanoscale resolution, allowing scientists to see features about half the length of visible light.
The basic concept of a synchrotron is that electrons are accelerated around a closed-loop path of magnets until they nearly reach the speed of light. The electrons can be manipulated in different ways using electromagnetic fields. This will release consistent x-ray beams, which is very difficult to achieve outside a large system such as a synchrotron.
The synchrotron generates x-ray light beams that are 10 billion times more intense than sunlight, enabling the study of minuscule particles like atoms and molecules. This x-ray light is then directed towards experimental stations called beamlines.
When it comes to x-ray imaging, synchrotrons are more energy efficient and accurate than other methods. They can see things at a very small scale, such as the nanometer, which extends x-ray imaging to a variety of settings that it cannot currently operate in. Using x-rays for imaging is less intrusive than using a light.
However, it is not currently possible to conduct synchrotron radiation outside of a synchrotron, which are very expensive and large facilities. For this to be possible, there would need to be a detector that can detect and characterize the x-ray beams every time they are shot out. The purpose of the research conducted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists is to create such a detector. Part of testing and development is the creation of custom readout electronics that are accurate and robust enough to be useful in further development.
Trevor shares that his time at the lab came with many opportunities to learn from exceptional scientists from Los Alamos National Lab. He shares, “The main purpose for me going there was to be able to learn from the scientists there, and they did a fantastic job.”