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SOLARIS at a glance

What is a synchrotron?

A synchrotron is a cyclic accelerator, i.e. a device in which particles are accelerated and travel around a fixed closed-loop path (in contrast to linear accelerators in which accelerated particles move in a straight line). In the SOLARIS synchrotron, electrons are accelerated. When the path of electrons rushing at a speed close to the speed of light is curved (so that they move in a circle), electromagnetic radiation, called synchrotron light, is produced. This light is taken out of the synchrotron through to the so-called beamlines. At the end of the beamlines, experimental end-stations are mounted.

Thus, a synchrotron is a device that produces light. The light allows research in many natural and technical sciences, such as biology, chemistry, physics, material engineering, nanotechnology, medicine, pharmacology, geology and crystallography.

Why are synchrotrons unique?

Synchrotrons are unique devices because they produce extraordinary synchrotron light (synchrotron radiation). The unique properties of this type of light include its enormous intensity; it is millions of times brighter than the light that comes to Earth from the Sun. In addition, synchrotron radiation contains electromagnetic waves from the infrared spectrum, through visible and ultraviolet light up to the X-rays. Thanks to this, scientists can study various materials in many ways, both externally and internally. In this way, they learn how these materials are built, and what their chemical composition and electrical or magnetic properties are.

Many types of measurements are possible only when synchrotron light is used. This light also allows scientists to get better quality information in less time than by using traditional light sources. Because synchrotrons offer such vast opportunities, they are used in many branches of science such as biology, chemistry, physics, material engineering, nanotechnology, medicine, pharmacology, geology, and crystallography.

It should also be noted that synchrotrons are extremely efficient, they work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing radiation for scientists conducting measurements simultaneously at many experimental end-stations. They are real research factories.

What makes the SOLARIS synchrotron stand out?

The SOLARIS synchrotron is the largest scientific research device in Poland. It is also the first and only synchrotron light source in Central Europe. Kraków synchrotron was built using the most modern technologies and following an innovative project designed by specialists from the Swedish MAXIV Laboratory. Thanks to this, the electron beam has excellent parameters despite the relatively small size of the device. And this, in turn, puts Kraków synchrotron in the forefront of this type of devices in the world.

Is synchrotron safe for people and nature?

The SOLARIS synchrotron is completely safe for people and nature. When the device is in operation, the linear accelerator and the storage ring produce harmful electromagnetic radiation. These devices are, however, located in tunnels that serve as a radiological shield. The tunnels are also protected by special control access systems that prevent people from staying there during synchrotron operation. In addition, all the places where beamlines are led out from the storage ring have been put into special lead cages and reinforced with additional lead walls. The safety of people who work at the centre and visit it is supervised by a radiation protection officer. Special measuring stations constantly monitor the level of radiation. Dosimetric measurements using portable dosimeters are also carried out periodically. The purpose of these measurements is to monitor the permanent shields, as well as widely available, supervised and controlled areas, which, if needed, are demarcated, separated and specially marked.

What is the difference between a synchrotron and a cyclotron?

Both cyclotrons and synchrotrons accelerate charged particles (electrons, protons, ions). This kind of devices are called circular accelerators, because accelerating particle beam travels in them around a fixed closed-loop path. This is in opposition to linear accelerators in which accelerated particles move in a straight line.

In Kraków there is both a synchrotron and cyclotrons. The difference between them lies mainly in the type of accelerated particles. The SOLARIS synchrotron housed at the National Synchrotron Radiation Center (600th Anniversary Campus of the Jagiellonian University) accelerates electrons. Cyclotrons housed at the Bronowice Cyclotron Center (the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences) accelerate mainly protons, but also light ions (such as deuterium or alpha particles). In the SOLARIS synchrotron, first electrons circulating in the storage ring produce electromagnetic radiation (synchrotron light), and then this radiation is used for research purposes. In the case of the cyclotrons, the accelerated particles themselves are used for research - scientists bombard samples with them. The cyclotrons are also used for medical purposes (cancer treatment: accelerated protons irradiate, and thus destroy, ocular tumors).