Synchrotrons explained (with donuts)

Synchrotrons are a type of particle accelerator—a family of machines that includes the famous Large Hadron Collider.

Different synchrotrons do different jobs. The Diamond Light Source synchrotron in the United Kingdom focuses on producing high-energy beams of light, which are used to aid all different kinds of scientific research—from microbiology to archaeology.

In this short video, Harriet Bailey and Alice Lighton of Elements, a British science news page, explain how Diamond produces light to begin with and how synchrotrons work. They do this, using a model built out of donuts.

This is part of a package of stories on the Diamond Light Source synchrotron. Go to Elements to check out the rest of their coverage, and learn about how this synchrotron is being used for tasks like preserving historic ships and fighting cancer!

Video Link

Via Ed Yong


  1. “The atoms in the raisin disrupt the light beam…”

    Pastries are better with science. Science is better with pastries. Now, all we have to do is figure out how to get a feedback loop going…

  2. The Kit-Kats at 2:00 are called wigglers, the creamy center of synchrotron radiation production.

  3. I used to work in view of the European Synchotron Research Facility[1], and was lucky to visit it once. Though it wasn’t as tasty as the Diamond Light Source, it was damn sexy for this geek. 

    The most interesting tidbit was that most particle accelerators, like the LHC, want to *avoid* losing energy at those bends: it’s energy lost from the particles you’re trying to accelerate as fast as possible for the Final Collision. Synchotrons do the opposite: they don’t care about the particles themselves, but the X-Ray radiation is the brightest (most photons) we can make, and really useful to look into stuff.

    Also, it’s fucking difficult to get x-rays to focus through a lens and reflect on a mirror. In fact that’s why they were initially called “X”-rays, because they didn’t refract and reflect like light so they thought it was something else!

    [1] and the neighboring pressure cooker, ILL, one of the most powerful neutron beams in the world (don’t call it “radiation”, it’ll freak out the population).

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