Making the Invisible Visible

16 August 2016

Elin Hammenfors

On the longest and lightest day of the year, the 21st of June, the Swedish King H.M. Carl XVI Gustaf and the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén inaugurated the MAX IV laboratory, which coincidentally creates the brightest light in the world. The host university and one of the major funders of the MAX IV-project is SCC Member Lund University.

The purpose of this multi-billion project can be hard for the uninitiated to understand, since the media generally portrays it as the world’s most brilliant synchrotron light source.

What this light source actually DOES is the following: The process starts in a tunnel below ground. A laser creates extremely short pulses of electrons, travelling through a 250m linear accelerator, almost reaching the speed of light. The electrons are then transferred to the storage rings where their path is being deflected by the means of powerful magnets. When this deflection is taking place the electrons emit a unique kind of x-ray, so called synchrotron light. It has the special property of being just as rich in energy on all wave lengths.

The synchrotron light is then transferred to the research stations, all specialised for a certain kind of material research. What is special with the MAX IV technology however, is the fineness and focus of the light beam. This is created by undulators and wigglers in order to illuminate the sample with a tiny but very sharp spotlight.

This bright and concentrated light can track extremely fast chemical processes in real time, making us fully understand how plants transform sunlight to energy. As a consequence, a new form of energy production might potentially be created: artificial photosynthesis.

There are also other fields of research that MAX IV can contribute to. It is believed it may contribute to finding the cure for a range of auto immune illnesses such as rheumatism, how to safely store nuclear waste or discover which particles are capable of slowing down global warming.

The MAX IV Laboratory is in addition located close to the world’s most powerful neutron accelerator: European Spallation Source ERIC (ESS) and the expectations on what these two laboratories can achieve together are quite high, to put it mildly.

A world leading high-tech centre of this scale will obviously attract a lot of researchers and eventually over 4,000 international scholars will annually come to Lund to conduct ground breaking research. In the long term, the city of Lund is expecting an infl ux of 40,000 residents. The question is how this idyllic small town, which is already overpopulated by the steadily increasing number of students arriving to the city, will manage to accommodate this bulk of newcomers. The Skåne region is attacking this issue from different angles. Plans to build a tramway from Lund Central Station to the research centre are well advanced, as well as the building of 5,000 new residential units annually in Skåne. With the vision of future high-speed trains, a joint Metro between Malmö and Copenhagen along with a train tunnel between Skåne and Germany, we can clearly see how the region is on track when it comes to urbanisation and the proximity to the continent has never before felt more convenient.


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