Rice plants are photographed in the X-ray beamline at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source.

CHESS receives $32.6M from NSF for new X-ray beamline

The National Science Foundation has awarded the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) $32.6 million to build a High Magnetic Field (HMF) beamline, which will allow researchers to conduct precision X-ray studies of materials in persistent magnetic fields that exceed those available at any other synchrotron.

The HMF beamline, to be located at CHESS’s Center for High Energy X-ray Science (CHEXS), is a partnership with the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (National MagLab), headquartered at Florida State University, and the University of Puerto Rico (UPR).

“This significant new infusion of NSF funding for Cornell’s CHESS lab will guarantee the preservation and expansion of its revolutionary scientific research in the heart of upstate New York,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, a long-time supporter of the facility whose advocacy in 2012 helped secure an extension of CHESS’s funding from the NSF.

Cornell impacting New York State

 “This facility has played a pivotal role in a multitude of medical discoveries and scientific breakthroughs, including two Nobel prizes, and supports more than 200 jobs,” Schumer said. “That is why I am working to expand CHESS’s partnership with the federal government, including with the Air Force Research Laboratory, in addition to ensuring the NSF continues to have the funding needed for support of CHESS and to maintain America’s global leadership in innovation. This latest funding confirms the tremendous potential the facility holds for unprecedented scientific discovery and I will continue to fight to ensure scientists at the CHESS lab are able to advance their groundbreaking research at this world-renowned facility for years to come.”

The partnership brings together CHESS’s expertise in high-energy X-ray science – which can be harnessed to explore the physical, chemical and structural properties in materials, molecules, organisms and devices – with the National MagLab’s leadership in high magnetic field technology. The HMF beamline will merge these strengths, so that researchers can manipulate electrons using magnetic fields and monitor their response using X-rays.

“This project is a unique opportunity for the NSF to converge the nation’s top national X-ray user facility, CHESS, with a new high-strength magnet to create the most powerful facility of its kind in the nation, leveraging the enormous expertise of the Cornell staff,” Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff said. “This will create an infrastructure that will have immense impacts on the future of our nation’s economy, well-being and scientific achievements.”

The project builds upon several longstanding relationships. CHEXS and the National MagLab are both NSF-funded national user facilities; CHESS and UPR previously established an NSF-supported initiative to train UPR students from underrepresented groups in X-ray technology at CHESS. The new funding will expand that effort to include cutting-edge magnet technology.

“This new beamline will be a generational change for both CHESS and the X-Ray community,” said Joel Brock, director of CHESS. “While we have plenty of X-Ray users at CHESS, the pipeline for beamline scientists – the people that know how to build an actual beamline – is drying up. This new project will not just expand the lab, it will also expand the network of experts of the underpinnings of the technology. That is why the education of undergraduates, grad students and postdocs is a major part of this project.”

The HMF beamline will feature a custom low-temperature superconducting magnet that generates continuous magnetic fields as high as 20 Tesla and will be capable of collecting nearly 1 billion distinct measurements per second. The beamline will be designed to accommodate even higher fields from future magnets made possible by anticipated developments in high-temperature superconducting magnet technology.

The HMF beamline will generate new insights into a range of fields, from quantum materials research to chemistry and biology.

“X-rays are a really powerful way to observe what the electrons are doing inside a material, but X-rays don’t really offer us many ways to control these electrons,” said Jacob Ruff, director of CHEXS. “On the other hand, magnetic fields offer very precise control of electrons inside materials. So, for me, what’s exciting about the new beamline at CHESS is that we will be able to control electrons with very strong magnetic fields and watch what happens with X-rays at the same time.

“This means we can start to intervene and manipulate different quantum states of matter, rather than just being spectators,” Ruff said. “We’re going to learn things we simply wouldn’t have been able to without the combination of the two capabilities.”

The funding is from the NSF’s Mid-scale Research Infrastructure-2 program, which supports projects between $20 million and $70 million that enable advances in scientific and engineering fields, as well as STEM education, by creating new research capabilities and training early-career researchers in the development, design and construction of cutting-edge infrastructure.

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Lindsey Knewstub