Sen. Charles Schumer is joined by, from left, Acting Mayor of the City of Ithaca Laura Lewis, New York State Assemblymember Anna Kelles and Vice Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature Deborah Dawson at a groundbreaking ceremony for the High Magnetic Field beamline at the Wilson Synchrotron Laboratory.

CHESS celebrates expansion and $8.5M funding for subfacility

The Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) celebrated the groundbreaking for a new $32.6 million high magnetic field project April 14 – the facility’s latest milestone.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), who secured an extension of CHESS’s funding from the National Science Foundation 10 years ago amid concerns that it wouldn’t be renewed, was on hand to celebrate. He also announced that $8.5 million from the 2022 omnibus appropriations bill will go towards operating the Materials Solutions Network at CHESS (MSN-C). That subfacility, launched in 2019, provides dedicated access to two X-ray beamlines for the Air Force Research Laboratory and other Department of Defense researchers to improve the performance and safety of new and existing materials and designs for military components.

“Now we’re not talking about the loss of CHESS,” said Schumer, the senate majority leader. “We’re instead talking about growing CHESS, and the great jobs that come with it. So that is a great thing. And there’s going to be more to come.”

Schumer noted that his proposed legislation, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, would provide more resources for the NSF.

“An investment in the NSF will benefit Cornell probably more on a per capita basis than any other place,” he said.

The $32.6 million High Magnetic Field (HMF) beamline, announced in October 2020 and currently under construction, 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 Sciences and funded through the NSF’s Mid-scale Research Infrastructure-2 program, is a partnership with the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (National MagLab), headquartered at Florida State University, and the University of Puerto Rico.

By combining CHESS’s expertise in high-energy X-ray science – which can illuminate 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 enable researchers to manipulate electrons using magnetic fields and monitor their response using X-rays. This approach promises to generate new insights and applications, from quantum materials research to chemistry and biology.

“It is going to create science that’s going to make all of our lives better, as well as creating jobs here and continuing Cornell [as] one of the centers of physical science research in the world,” Schumer said.

President Martha E. Pollack described CHESS as one of the crown jewels of scientific exploration at Cornell.

“As the only light source of its kind based at a university, CHESS has a unique role to play in research and education: enabling the discoveries that advance X-ray science; designing the innovations that improve the capacity of the synchrotron to solve problems; and training the next generation of scientists and innovators,” Pollack said.

“Senator Schumer deeply understands and appreciates the vital role that CHESS plays, at Cornell and beyond. And he has been instrumental in ensuring that CHESS remains available: helping keep the United States at the forefront of global scientific exploration,” she said.

Pollack also took the opportunity to thank Schumer for his leadership and support throughout the last two years – “and then some” – of the pandemic, helping the university move forward in the midst of so much uncertainty.

As a university-based, user facility, CHESS not only advances its own X-ray technologies and techniques, it supports the critical research of thousands of scientists all across the country: providing them with state-of-the-art research tools that will help the U.S. meet serious challenges including economic competitiveness, climate change, deadly diseases and world hunger, said CHESS director Joel Brock.

“CHESS brings these top scientists to Cornell in order to further their research,” Brock said. “They bring proteins that reveal new ways to combat COVID and fight cancer. They bring battery cells able to store a charge far beyond what is currently possible. They bring structural materials that allow us to perform space travel in the future, lightweight yet structurally sound materials. This research is going to shape our collective future.

“And soon, researchers are going to be able to study materials under intense magnetic fields,” he said. “And this research is going to unlock the quantum secrets which we don’t even know how to describe yet.”

That breadth of research is something that many people don’t realize, according to New York State Assemblymember Anna Kelles (D-125th District), who noted examples spanning archeology, agriculture and medicine.

“This place is amazing. This place is necessary. And this place is so Cornell,” she said.

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Becka Bowyer