US Advanced Light Source set for $590m upgrade


The Advanced Light Source
Shining light: Once online in 2026, the Advanced Light Source-Upgrade will be one of the most intense sources of coherent soft X-rays in the world (courtesy: Thor Swift/Berkeley Lab)

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has approved a $590m upgrade to the Advanced Light Source (ALS) that will see the “brightness” of the facility increase by a factor of a 100. When complete in 2026, the ALS-U, which is located at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will include building two new beamlines as well as a new storage ring that will reduce the width of the X-rays beams from the current 100 microns to just a few microns.

Synchrotrons work by accelerating electrons to high energies and then injecting them into a circular storage ring where they emit powerful beams of X-rays. The X-rays act as a microscope and can be used to study the structure and properties of materials.

An upgrade to the ALS was first proposed to the DOE in 2016. Three years later, one element of that upgrade – a second ring known as the accumulator that will prepare electrons for the upgrade’s new storage ring – received a special advance approval from the DOE.

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Now that the full project has received the green light, the ALS is expected to cease operations in October 2025 to make way for the installation and commissioning of the new ring.

When complete in September 2026, the ALS-U will become one of the most intense sources of coherent soft X-rays in the world. ALS interim director Andreas Scholl told Physics World that the facility’s focus will enable studies of reactions and processes at very small scales.

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“Our greatest strength is nanoscale imaging using ptychography, which relies on bright X-ray beams,” says Scholl. “We see ourselves as world-leading and we think that we’ll be very competitive with European and Asian light sources.”

High performance

ALS is one of roughly 70 synchrotron radiation sources worldwide and is expected to operate for at least 25 years. Its potential areas of application will include improving batteries and clean-energy technologies, creating new materials for sensors as well as studying biological matter to develop improved medicines.

“We will also use X-ray spectroscopy to study dynamics,” Scholl adds. “We have interest in studying quantum materials for computing [that involves] interrogating much, much smaller systems. The upgrade will allow us to give the scientific community access to the highest performance for their experiments.”

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As Scholl sees it, each synchrotron has one or two areas in which they can invest their main efforts. But alongside an inevitable amount of competition, there is also complementarity. US facilities, for example, are collaborating in the development of technologies that have broad application to new light sources.

“We compete in science but we collaborate heavily in technology,” says Scholl. “We are working with other US light sources to develop optics for new light sources and data tools.”

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