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Mon February 6, 2012
Dr. Christopher Kim, Chapman University - Synchrotron X-Rays
Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Christopher Kim of Chapman University explains a few innovative uses of powerful synchrotron-based X-rays.
Chris Kim is an associate professor of chemistry and environmental science in the Schmid College of Science at Chapman University. His research interests include synchrotron-based spectroscopic and microscopic methods for mineralogical and geochemical analysis. He also serves as principal investigator for Chapman's Environmental Geochemistry Lab. He holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University.
Dr. Christopher Kim - Synchrotron X-Rays
The hidden world of atoms and molecules is becoming increasingly visible thanks to the development of synchrotron light sources. First discovered in the 1960s as an unintended side effect of linear particle accelerators, synchrotron-based X-rays are today the brightest and most powerful source of X-rays on the planet, 100 billion times brighter than the X-rays you might use to look at bones or teeth in your medical and dental X-rays.
Scientists from a wide variety of disciplines can use these X-rays as a tool to probe the composition and structure of matter itself at trace concentrations and with previously unimaginable spatial resolution. This is opening up entire new fields of study in ways that scientists could only have dreamed of just a few decades earlier. Synchrotron X-rays are now being used to look at the form of arsenic in gold mine tailings, the color of feathers on ancient winged dinosaurs such as Archaeopteryx, the secret writings of Archimedes, the 3-dimensional structure of cancer proteins, and a lost painting by Van Gogh buried underneath the paint of a later work.
Synchrotron X-rays have the special ability to be tuned and varied in energy, which allows them to excite specific elements within the sample being investigated either one at a time or all at once. This allows researchers to study very low concentrations of elements, like mercury in fish, and see what chemical form they may be in. With a width that's 20 times thinner than the diameter of a human hair, synchrotron X-rays also have the unparalleled ability to provide chemical information on the tiniest spot imaginable.
For such a powerful scientific tool, you might think that only the most privileged would get to use it. Actually, the top synchrotrons in the U.S. are operated by the Department of Energy, so they're entirely free for scientists to use. Well, plus tax, that is the DOE's budget is largely funded by taxpayer dollars. So the next time you meet a synchrotron scientist, make sure they thank you for your support.