About synchrotrons

This section of the new Australian Synchrotron website contains general information about synchrotrons. To go to a particular webpage or section, click on that heading in the left-hand menu. The ABOUT SYNCHROTRONS menu appears on every page in the ABOUT SYNCHROTRONS section.

What is a synchrotron?

In simple terms, a synchrotron is a very large, circular, megavoltage machine about the size of a football field. From outside, the Australian Synchrotron, for example, looks very much like a roofed football stadium. But on the inside, it’s very different. Instead of grass and seating, there is a vast, circular network of interconnecting tunnels and high tech apparatus.

Synchrotrons use electricity to produce intense beams of light a million times brighter than the sun. The light is produced when high-energy electrons are forced to travel in a circular orbit inside the synchrotron tunnels by ‘synchronised’ application of strong magnetic fields.

The electron beams travel at just under the speed of light – about 299,792 kilometres per second. The intense light they produce is filtered and adjusted to travel into experimental workstations, where the light reveals the innermost, sub-microscopic secrets of materials under investigation, from human tissue to plants to metals and more.

With this new knowledge that synchrotron science provides about the molecular structure of materials, researchers can invent ways to tackle diseases, make plants more productive and metals more resilient – among many other beneficial applications of synchrotron science.

More-technical information about how the Australian Synchrotron and other similar facilities work is available in the 'ABOUT US/Our facilities'  section.