he world is ready for the next energy revolution. Innovations like high-capacity
storage and next-gen superconducting materials could transform the way
people create and consume energy. But so far, researchers have failed to bring
those ideas to life.
A major obstacle to progress is the lack of deep understanding of nanoscale
materials. To take the next big leap forward in energy technologies, global scientists needed a tool that would let them develop, understand and manipulate
some of the world’s smallest materials, says Frank Crescenzo, site manager,
Brookhaven National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Upton,
New York, USA. DOE is a PMI Global Executive Council member.
Scientists “needed a facility that could study materials at the single-atom
resolution, and there was no facility in the world that could do that,” he says.
In response, the DOE’s Office of Science launched the US$912 million
National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) project at Brookhaven in 2005.
The 10-year project delivered the world’s most powerful photon microscope for
high-impact, discovery-class science and technology. It creates X-rays allowing
scientists to see how materials in systems—such as batteries or fuel cells—
behave at the nano-level while operating in real-world conditions. Such research
could foster global breakthroughs for health and energy.
But to make all this possible, the project team had to develop cutting-edge
imaging capabilities—and mitigate the risks that come with innovation, says
Steve Dierker, PhD, former project director for Brookhaven National Laboratory. “In many cases, we identified technologies that were not quite sufficient. So
we carried out a research and development program to advance those technologies to beyond what was the state-of-the-art,” he says.
The resulting design centered around a light source that would be 10,000
times brighter and five times larger than the lab’s original facility, NSLS, says
Erik Johnson, PhD, PMP, deputy project director for the NSLS-II project.
“If you want to go small, you have to go big,” he says.
BUILT BY DESIGN
Going big also meant casting a wide net for global scientific experts who could
zero in on the intricate requirements for such a precise tool. Facilities like
NSLS-II generate light by accelerating a beam of electrons around a large ring.
The light gets brighter as electrons move faster and are packed more tightly. But