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Here, the synchrotron is the circular track, off which the beamlines branch.

A synchrotron is a particular type of cyclic particle accelerator in which the magnetic field (to turn the particles so they circulate) and the electric field (to accelerate the particles) are carefully synchronized with the travelling particle beam. The proton synchrotron was originally conceived by Sir Marcus Oliphant. The honour of the first to publish the idea belongs to Vladimir Veksler, and the first electron synchrotron was constructed by Oliphant's supervisor Edwin McMillan.


While a cyclotron uses a constant magnetic field and a constant-frequency applied electric field (one of these is varied in the synchrocyclotron), both of these fields are varied in the synchrotron. By increasing these parameters appropriately as the particles gain energy, their path can be held constant as they are accelerated. This allows the vacuum chamber for the particles to be a large thin torus. In reality it is easier to use some straight sections between the bending magnets and some bent sections within the magnets giving the torus the shape of a round-cornered polygon. A path of large effective radius may thus be constructed using simple straight and curved pipe segments, unlike the disc-shaped chamber of the cyclotron type devices. The shape also allows and requires the use of multiple magnets to bend the particle beams. Straight sections are required at spacings around a ring for both radiofrequency cavities, and in third generation light sources allow space for insertion devices such as wigglers and undulators.

The maximum energy that a cyclic accelerator can impart is typically limited by the strength of the magnetic field(s) and the minimum radius (maximum curvature) of the particle path.

In a cyclotron the maximum radius is quite limited as the particles start at the center and spiral outward, thus the entire path must be a self-supporting disc-shaped evacuated chamber. Since the radius is limited, the power of the machine becomes limited by the strength of the magnetic field. In the case of an ordinary electromagnet the field strength is limited by the saturation of the core (when all magnetic domains are aligned the field may not be further increased to any practical extent). The arrangement of the single pair of magnets the full width of the device also limits the economic size of the device.

Synchrotrons overcome these limitations, using a narrow beam pipe which can be surrounded by much smaller and more tightly focusing magnets. The ability of this device to accelerate particles is limited by the fact that the particles must be charged to be accelerated at all, but charged particles under acceleration emit photons (light), thereby losing energy. The limiting beam energy is reached when the energy lost to the lateral acceleration required to maintain the beam path in a circle equals the energy added each cycle. More powerful accelerators are built by using large radius paths and by using more numerous and more powerful microwave cavities to accelerate the particle beam between corners. Lighter particles (such as electrons) lose a larger fraction of their energy when turning. Practically speaking, the energy of electron/positron accelerators is limited by this radiation loss, while it does not play a significant role in the dynamics of proton or ion accelerators. The energy of those is limited strictly by the strength of magnets and by the cost.

Design and operation

Particles are injected into the main ring at substantial energies by either a linear accelerator or by an intermediate synchrotron which is in turn fed by a linear accelerator. The "linac" is in turn fed by particles accelerated to intermediate energy by a simple high voltage power supply, typically a Cockcroft-Walton generator.

Starting from an appropriate initial value determined by the injection velocity the magnetic field is then increased. The particles pass through an electrostatic accelerator driven by a high alternating voltage. At particle speeds not close to the speed of light the frequency of the accelerating voltage can be made roughly proportional to the current in the bending magnets. A finer control of the frequency is performed by a servo loop which responds to the detection of the passing of the traveling group of particles. At particle speeds approaching light speed the frequency becomes more nearly constant, while the current in the bending magnets continues to increase. The maximum energy that can be applied to the particles (for a given ring size and magnet count) is determined by the saturation of the cores of the bending magnets (the point at which increasing current does not produce additional magnetic field). One way to obtain additional power is to make the torus larger and add additional bending magnets. This allows the amount of particle redirection at saturation to be less and so the particles can be more energetic. Another means of obtaining higher power is to use superconducting magnets, these not being limited by core saturation.

Large synchrotrons

One of the early large synchrotrons, now retired, is the Bevatronmarker, constructed in 1950 at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratorymarker. The name of this proton accelerator comes from its power, in the range of 6.3 GeV (then called BeV for billion electron volts; the name predates the adoption of the SI prefix giga-). A number of heavy elements, unseen in the natural world, were first created with this machine. This site is also the location of one of the first large bubble chambers used to examine the results of the atomic collisions produced here.

Another early large synchrotron is the Cosmotron built at Brookhaven National Laboratorymarker which reached 3.3 GeV in 1953.

Until August 2008, the highest energy synchrotron in the world was the Tevatronmarker, at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratorymarker, in the United Statesmarker. It accelerates protons and antiprotons to slightly less than 1 TeV of kinetic energy and collides them together. The Large Hadron Collidermarker (LHC), which has been built at the European Laboratory for High Energy Physics (CERNmarker), has roughly seven times this energy. It is housed in the 27 km tunnel which formerly housed the Large Electron Positron (LEP) collider, so it will maintain the claim as the largest scientific device ever built. The LHC will also accelerate heavy ions (such as lead) up to an energy of 1.15 PeV.

The largest device of this type seriously proposed was the Superconducting Super Collidermarker (SSC), which was to be built in the United Statesmarker. This design, like others, used superconducting magnets which allow more intense magnetic fields to be created without the limitations of core saturation. While construction was begun, the project was cancelled in 1994, citing excessive budget overruns — this was due to naïve cost estimation and economic management issues rather than any basic engineering flaws. It can also be argued that the end of the Cold War resulted in a change of scientific funding priorities that contributed to its ultimate cancellation.While there is still potential for yet more powerful proton and heavy particle cyclic accelerators, it appears that the next step up in electron beam energy must avoid losses due to synchrotron radiation. This will require a return to the linear accelerator, but with devices significantly longer than those currently in use. There is at present a major effort to design and build the International Linear Collider (ILC), which will consist of two opposing linear accelerators, one for electrons and one for positrons. These will collide at a total center of mass energy of 0.5 TeV.

However, synchrotron radiation also has a wide range of applications (see synchrotron light) and many 2nd and 3rd generation synchrotrons have been built especially to harness it. The largest of those 3rd generation synchrotron light sources are the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRFmarker) in Grenoble, France, the Advanced Photon Source (APSmarker) near Chicago, USA, and SPring-8marker in Japanmarker, accelerating electrons up to 6, 7 and 8 GeV, respectively.

Synchrotrons which are useful for cutting edge research are large machines, costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to construct, and each beamline (there may be 20 to 50 at a large synchrotron) costs another two or three million dollars on average. These installations are mostly built by the science funding agencies of governments of developed countries, or by collaborations between several countries in a region, and operated as infrastructure facilities available to scientists from universities and research organisations throughout the country, region, or world. More compact models, however, have been developed, such as the Compact Light Source.

List of installations

Synchrotron Location & Country Energy (GeV) Circumference (m) Commissioned Decommissioned
Advanced Photon Source marker Argonne National Laboratorymarker, USAmarker 7.0 1104 1995
ISISmarker Rutherford Appleton Laboratorymarker, UKmarker 0.8 163 1985
Australian Synchrotronmarker Melbournemarker, Australia 3 216 2006
LNLSmarker Campinasmarker, Brazilmarker 1.37 93.2 1997
SESAME Allaan, Jordanmarker 2.5 125 Under Design
Bevatronmarker Lawrence Berkeley Laboratorymarker, USAmarker 6 114 1954 1993
Advanced Light Sourcemarker Lawrence Berkeley Laboratorymarker, USAmarker 1.9 196.8 1993
Cosmotron Brookhaven National Laboratorymarker, USAmarker 3 72 1953 1968
National Synchrotron Light Sourcemarker Brookhaven National Laboratorymarker, USAmarker 2.8 170 1982
Nimrod Rutherford Appleton Laboratorymarker, UKmarker 7 1957 1978
Alternating Gradient Synchrotron Brookhaven National Laboratorymarker, USAmarker 33 800 1960
Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsourcemarker SLAC National Accelerator Laboratorymarker, USAmarker 3 234 1973
Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source marker Cornell Universitymarker, USAmarker 5.5 768 1979
Soleilmarker Parismarker, Francemarker 3 354 2006
Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility marker Shanghai, Chinamarker 3.5 432 2007
Proton Synchrotron CERNmarker, Switzerlandmarker 28 628.3 1959
Tevatronmarker Fermi National Accelerator Laboratorymarker, USAmarker 1000 6300 1983
Swiss Light Source Paul Scherrer Institutemarker, Switzerlandmarker 2.8 288 2001
Large Hadron Collider marker CERNmarker, Switzerlandmarker 7000 26659 2008
BESSY II Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin in Berlinmarker, Germanymarker 1.7 240 1998
European Synchrotron Radiation Facility marker Grenoblemarker, Francemarker 6 844 1992
MAX-I MAX-lab, Swedenmarker 0.55 30 1986
MAX-II MAX-lab, Swedenmarker 1.5 90 1997
MAX-III MAX-lab, Swedenmarker 0.7 36 2008
ELETTRAmarker Triestemarker, Italymarker 2-2.4 260 1993
Synchrotron Radiation Sourcemarker Daresbury Laboratorymarker, UKmarker 2 96 1980 2008
Diamond Light Sourcemarker Oxfordshire, UKmarker 3 561.6 2006
DORIS III DESYmarker, Germanymarker 4.5 289 1980
PETRA II DESYmarker, Germanymarker 12 2304 1995 2007
Canadian Light Sourcemarker University of Saskatchewanmarker, Canadamarker 2.9 171 2002
SPring-8marker RIKEN, Japanmarker 8 1436 1997
Taiwanese National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center Hsinchu Science Parkmarker, Taiwanmarker 3.3 518.4 2008
Synchrotron Light Research Institute Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailandmarker 1.2 81.4 2004
Indus 1 Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore, Indiamarker 0.45 1999
Indus 2 Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore, Indiamarker 2.5 36 2005
Synchrophasotron JINRmarker, Dubnamarker, USSRmarker 10 180 1957 2005
U-70 IHEP, Protvinomarker, USSRmarker 70 1967
CAMD LSUmarker, Louisianamarker, USmarker 1.5 - -
  • Note: in the case of colliders, the quoted energy is often double what is shown here. The above table shows the energy of one beam but if two opposing beams collide head on, the centre of mass energy is double the beam energy shown.


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