The chances of winning a Nobel Prize will increase significantly for Estonian scientists soon, when the world’s brightest synchrotron light source facility will be opened in Lund, Sweden, where Estonians will share a beamline with the Finns.
A beamline is a key component or conduit for the synchrotron light source which has multiple scientific and technical uses.
“The hope of winning the prize is always present, but our investment in Lund does not guarantee it,” explains Ergo Nõmmiste, Vice President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, and one of the key persons in the project participating in building the MAX IV beamline to the synchrotron in Lund. “To win the Nobel Prize, one also needs to have a great idea along with the equipment.”
Nõmmiste has battled for years to promote the opportunities a synchrotron could give scientists, and recently he has seen his efforts starting to pay off. A greater number of scientists are becoming interested in the project; the awareness of the ways it can be used is increasing and scientists are more willing to widen the scope of their research in this area.
“It is mostly physicists who are using it but biologists, archaeologists and environmental scientists could also make use of the different opportunities that synchrotron methods offer,” Nõmmiste says. “When you look at Nobel winners in the sciences, you see that a rather substantial part of their research has utilized the synchrotron.”
The Estonian-Finnish beamline, FinEstBeaMS, in Lund will be dedicated to providing high quality radiation with precisely controlled and widely variable parameters for a broad range of materials research. The beamline enables the study of matter in its various forms: gases and liquids, and also nanoparticles and solids, known as the three phases of water — the liquid water of seas and lakes that continuously evaporates into its gas-phase and condenses again into microscopic droplets in clouds or freezes over as ice in winter.
“The beamline allows us to see the unseen — to visualize the things that are invisible to the naked eye,” Rainer Pärna, Estonia’s project coordinator in Lund, said. When we look at paper and see writings on it, according to Pärna we can see that there is more there than the eye can see through a microscope. With the synchrotron, even the things that do not appear under a microscope become visible. For example, we can view the composition of the ink. In fact, the beamline allows scientists to research nanoparticles.
“There are materials that allow us to build glass that cleans itself; but in order to learn how these materials actually work, and to improve them even further, we need to know how they are created and the kind of processes involved,” Pärna said. “This research has to be conducted on the smallest atomic level; this is the only way to create new and better materials that would allow us to save energy in the future.”
Nanoparticles are, naturally, not the only thing Estonians plan to research in Lund. Nõmmiste assures us that their work on supercapacitors will continue – Estonians are already using the other MAX-lab rings for research on how to use the energy that accelerating cars create when they break. Recently both McLaren Mercedes and Ferrari’s Formula 1 teams have shown interest in such research.
“Supercapacitors, photo elements, solar panels, and sustainable energy in general: these are the topics that we will definitely continue to research at the MAX laboratory,” said Nõmmiste, who added, “I do not want to predict the future, but issues related to climate change, air pollution, and the ozone layer can definitely be researched with the help of the synchrotron.”
Both Pärna and Nõmmiste emphasized that when the MAX IV-laboratory is finally opened in about two years, it will bring more opportunities than just the FinEstBeaMS beamline for Estonian scientists – as Estonians have invested into building the new laboratory, they will have easy access to the other beamlines at the complex.
MAX IV is the next-generation synchrotron radiation facility planned for Lund, Sweden. It has been designed within the Swedish national laboratory, the MAX-lab, which operates three accelerators for synchrotron radiation research. There will be two storage rings at the MAX IV laboratory. The smaller ring will have 1500 MeV of electron energy and a 96 m circumference. The bigger ring will have 3000 MeV of electron energy and a 528 m circumference.
The electrons will be produced in two electron guns and then accelerated in a 250 metre-long linear accelerator to a maximum of 3400 MeV. Depending on which ring the electrons are being injected into, they will be extracted from the accelerator at different points corresponding to the correct energy of the ring. In comparison to today’s storage rings, MAX IV will be injected with electrons when it’s operating at its full energy capacity. This means that the rings can be filled with electrons continuously once every minute and a constant maximum current can be maintained around the clock. In the second half of 2017, thirteen beamlines will be operational at the MAX IV-laboratory, the FinEstBeaMS being one of them.