District Students to Use Advanced Light Source Facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory

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High school science research instructor Mr. Edward Irwin was one of 15 teachers across Long Island selected to attend a National Synchrotron Light Source II workshop at Brookhaven National Laboratory this summer.

The brand-new, multimillion-dollar U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility at the Laboratory is opening its doors to research proposals from high school students. Under the guidance of their teachers and BNL researchers, students will develop their own topics, write proposals requesting time to use NSLS-II bright x-ray beams and observe the results either remotely or in person. These proposals will be judged competitively with those from career scientists, and students will learn about the process of developing a successful science research proposal. Irwin received hands-on experience in preparing samples, attending science lectures, visiting beamlines and learning about what data can be collected and analyzed with the NSLS.

A synchrotron is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the nucleus of an atom. In a synchrotron, charged particles move inside a torus at very high speeds. They collide with each other and the debris resulting from such collisions give clues about the nature of the nucleus. As the charged particles accelerate in the torus, they give out radiation called synchrotron radiation. The x-rays emerging from the synchrotron are 10,000 times brighter than any other similar device in the world, and this enables scientists to study materials with nanoscale resolution and exquisite sensitivity. The superlative character and combination of capabilities of the NSLS-II are expected to have broad impact on a wide range of disciplines, such as biology, medicine, materials and chemical sciences, geosciences and environmental sciences, and nanotechnology. Irwin expects to use the NSLS II to study the accumulation of mercury in the hair of autistic children. The group of 15 teachers, who attended the summer program, will return for a follow-up meeting at Brookhaven on Aug. 30 to discuss further how to help students create proposals.

The use of the NSLS-II is part of a broader effort by the district Science Department to bring “big machines” to the classroom to introduce them to students and ultimately encourage and support interest and enrichment in STEM-related disciplines.