A synchrotron is a particular type of cyclic particle accelerator in which the magnetic field (to turn the particles so they circulate) and the electric field (to accelerate the particles) are carefully synchronized with the travelling particle beam. They were originally developed by Luis Walter Alvarez to study high-energy particle physics.


While a cyclotron uses a constant magnetic field and a constant-frequency applied electric field (one of these is varied in the synchrocyclotron), both of these fields are varied in the synchrotron. By increasing these parameters appropriately as the particles gain energy, their path can be held constant as they are accelerated. This allows the vacuum container for the particles to be a large thin torus. In reality it is easier to use some straight sections between the bending magnets and some bent sections within the magnets giving the torus the shape of a round-cornered polygon. A path of large effective radius may thus be constructed using simple straight and curved pipe segments, unlike the disc-shaped chamber of the cyclotron type devices. The shape also allows and requires the use of multiple magnets to bend the particle beam.

The maximum energy that a cyclic accelerator can impart is typically limited by the strength of the magnetic field(s) and the minimum radius (maximum curvature) of the particle path.

In a cyclotron the maximum radius is quite limited as the particles start at the center and spiral outward, thus this entire path must be a self-supporting disc-shaped evacuated chamber. Since the radius is limited, the power of the machine becomes limited by the strength of the magnetic field. In the case of an ordinary electromagnet the field strength is limited by the saturation of the core (when all magnetic domains are aligned the field may not be further increased to any practical extent). The arrangement of the single pair of magnets the full width of the device also limits the economic size of the device.

Synchrotrons overcome these limitations, using a narrow beam pipe which can be surrounded by much smaller and more tightly focusing magnets. The ability of this device to accelerate particles is limited by the fact that the particles must be charged to be accelerated at all, but charged particles under acceleration emit photons (light), thereby losing energy. The limiting beam energy is reached when the energy lost to the lateral acceleration required to maintain the beam path in a circle equals the energy added each cycle. More powerful accelerators are built by using large radius paths and by using more numerous and more powerful microwave cavities to accelerate the particle beam between corners. Lighter particles (such as electrons) lose a larger fraction of their energy when turning. Practically speaking, the energy of electron/positron accelerators is limited by this radiation loss, while it does not play a significant role in the dynamicsof proton or ion accelerators. The energy of those is limited strictly by thestrength of magnets and by the cost.

Large synchrotrons

One of the early large synchrotrons, now retired, is the Bevatron, constructed in 1950 at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. The name of this proton accelerator comes from its power, in the range of 6.3 GeV (then called BeV for billion electron volts; the name predates the adoption of the SI prefix giga-). A number of heavy elements, unseen in the natural world, were first created with this machine. This site is also the location of one of the first large bubble chambers used to examine the results of the atomic collisions produced here.

Another early large synchrotron is the Cosmotron built at Brookhaven National Laboratory which reached 3.3 GeV in 1953. [ [ The Cosmotron ] ]

Until August 2008, the highest energy synchrotron in the world was the Tevatron, at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, in the United States. It accelerates protons and antiprotons to slightly less than 1 TeV of kinetic energy and collides them together. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which has been builtat the European Laboratory for High Energy Physics (CERN), has roughly seven times this energy. It is housed in the 27 km tunnel which formerly housed the Large Electron Positron (LEP) collider, so it will maintain the claim as the largest scientific device ever built. The LHC will also accelerate heavy ions (such as Lead) up to an energy of 1.15 PeV.

The largest device of this type seriously proposed was the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), which was to be built in the United States. This design, like others, used superconducting magnets which allow more intense magnetic fields to be created without the limitations of core saturation. While construction was begun, the project was cancelled in 1994, citing excessive budget overruns — this was due to naïve cost estimation and economic management issues rather than any basic engineering flaws. It can also be argued that the end of the Cold War resulted in achange of scientific funding priorities that contributed to its ultimate cancellation.

While there is still potential for yet more powerful proton and heavy particle cyclic accelerators, it appears that the next step up in electron beam energy must avoid losses due to synchrotron radiation.This will require a return to the linear accelerator, but with devices significantly longer than those currently in use. There is at present a major effort to design and build the International Linear Collider (ILC), which will consist of two opposing linear accelerators, one for electrons and one for positrons. These will collide at a total center of mass energy of 0.5 TeV.

However, synchrotron radiation also has a wide range of applications (see synchrotron light) and many synchrotrons have been built especially to harness it. The largest of those 3rd generation synchrotron light sources are the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, the Advanced Photon Source (APS) near Chicago, USA, and SPring-8 in Japan, accelerating electrons up to 6, 7 and 8 GeV, respectively.

Synchrotrons which are useful for cutting edge research are large machines, costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to construct, and each beamline (there may be 20 to 50 at a large synchrotron) costs another two or three million dollars on average. These installations are mostly built by the science funding agencies of governments of developed countries, or by collaborations between several countries in a region, and operated as infrastructure facilities available to scientists from universities and research organisations throughout the country, region, or world. More compact models, however, have been developed, such as the Compact Light Source.

List of installations

* Note: in the case of colliders, the quoted power is often double what is shown here. The above table shows the power of one beam but if two opposing beams collide head on, the effective power is doubled.


*Life sciences: protein and large molecule crystallography
*Drug discovery and research
*"Burning" computer chip designs into metal wafers
*Studying molecule shapes and protein crystals
*Analyzing chemicals to determine their composition
*Observing the reaction of living cells to drugs
*Inorganic material crystallography and microanalysis
*Fluorescence studies
*Semiconductor material analysis and structural studies
*Geological material analysis
*Medical imaging
*Proton therapy to treat some forms of cancer

ee also

* List of synchrotron radiation facilities
* Synchrotron X-ray tomographic microscopy
* Energy amplifier
* Superconducting Radio Frequency


External links

* [ Australian Synchrotron]
* [ Diamond UK Synchrotron]
* []
* [ CERN Large Hadron Collider]
* [ Synchrotrons Light Sources of the World]
* [ A Miniature Synchrotron:] room-size synchrotron offers scientists a new way to perform high-quality x-ray experiments in their own labs, "Technology Review", February 04, 2008

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • synchrotron — [ sɛ̃krɔtrɔ̃ ] n. m. • 1949; de synchro(ne) et (cyclo)tron; cf. synchrocyclotron ♦ Phys. Cyclotron dans lequel l augmentation de la masse relativiste des particules est compensée par une variation du champ magnétique. Synchrotron à électrons, à… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • synchrotron — ☆ synchrotron [siŋ′krəträn΄, sin′krəträn΄ ] n. [ SYNCHRO + (ELEC)TRON] a circular machine for accelerating charged particles to very high energies through the use of a magnetic field in combination with a high frequency electrostatic field …   English World dictionary

  • Synchrotron — Article connexe : rayonnement synchrotron. Le terme synchrotron désigne un grand instrument électromagnétique destiné à l accélération à haute énergie de particules élémentaires. Schéma d un synchrotron à protons vue en plan et section d un… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Synchrotron — Das Synchrotron ist ein Teilchenbeschleuniger, in dem geladene Elementarteilchen oder Ionen auf sehr hohe (relativistische) Geschwindigkeiten beschleunigt werden können, wodurch die Teilchen sehr hohe kinetische Energien erhalten, da das… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • synchrotron — /sing kreuh tron /, n. Physics. a type of cyclotron consisting of magnetic sections alternately spaced with sections in which particles are electrostatically accelerated. [1945 50; SYNCHRO + TRON] * * * Cyclic particle accelerator in which the… …   Universalium

  • Synchrotron — Syn|chro|tron 〈[ kro ] n. 11〉 ringförmiger Beschleuniger für Elementarteilchen, bei dem diese auf einer konstanten Kreisbahn auf sehr hohe Geschwindigkeit gebracht werden [<synchron + Elektron] * * * Sỵn|chro|t|ron [Kurzw. aus ↑ syn (1), ↑… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Synchrotron — sinchrotronas statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. synchrotron vok. Synchrotron, n rus. синхротрон, m pranc. synchrotron, m …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

  • synchrotron — sinchrotronas statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. synchrotron vok. Synchrotron, n rus. синхротрон, m pranc. synchrotron, m …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

  • synchrotron — sinchrotronas statusas T sritis Standartizacija ir metrologija apibrėžtis Ciklinis rezonansinis elektronų greitintuvas. atitikmenys: angl. synchrotron vok. Sychrotron, n rus. синхротрон, m pranc. synchrotron, m …   Penkiakalbis aiškinamasis metrologijos terminų žodynas

  • synchrotron — noun Date: 1945 1. an apparatus for imparting very high speeds to charged particles by means of a combination of a high frequency electric field and a low frequency magnetic field 2. synchrotron radiation …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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