MAX IV makes the invisible visible

MAX IV – the most modern synchrotron radiation facility in the world – enables researchers to study atoms and molecules that are only a few tenths of a nanometre in diameter, which provides completely new knowledge about the world and how it works.
Over 2,000 international researchers will use the Swedish-based laboratory each year to conduct ground-breaking experiments in materials and life sciences using the most brilliant X-ray light ever generated. The special magnetic technology required to generate the intense light has been designed in a totally new way, which makes MAX IV the world-leading synchrotron radiation source facility. Several other facilities around the world are now copying the technology that MAX IV is based on.


MAX IV in brief

At MAX IV you can examine molecular structures and surfaces in a far more detailed way than before. Researchers in areas such as biology, physics, chemistry, environment, geology, engineering and medicine can utilise this technology. The technology provides opportunities to make new discoveries and products in fields such as materials, medicine and the environment. However, the greater part of the research conducted at the facility is basic research, which seeks answers to the question of why atoms form molecules and crystals at all.

The MAX IV facility is based on new technology and scientific theories that have been developed at the Lund-based MAX Lab since the early 1980s. MAX Lab was the forerunner with the MAX I, II and III accelerators.

At MAX IV there are three accelerators – a linear accelerator and two storage rings. The large ring has a circumference of 528 metres, comparable with the Coliseum in Rome. The linear accelerator increases the velocity of electrons almost to the speed of light. The electrons are then directed into the storage ring, where magnets bend their path. In this bending process the electrons emit synchrotron light, which is an extremely intense light spanning wavelengths from ultraviolet to hard X-rays. The light is directed to the research stations through special beamlines, which is where experiments are conducted.

It is estimated that 2,000 researchers from around the world will visit MAX IV each year to conduct experiments at the facility. About 300 people will work at the facility when it is fully developed.

MAX IV has several financiers who contribute to its various elements: the Swedish Research Council, Lund University, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, Vinnova, Region Skåne, 13 Swedish universities, the Academy of Finland and Finnish Universities together with Estonia, as well as a consortium made up of Danish universities and regions, Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Swedish Paper and Pulp industry.

The facility has been built with a strong focus on environmental aspects and its innovative approach has won prizes and awards, such as the prize for best future project at the MIPIM real estate show in Cannes in 2014.
At present has 16 funded beamlines, eight beamlines are operating, three are being commissioned and five are being constructed. In total, the facility can accommodate 26‒28 beamlines in the two storage rings and in the extension of the linear accelerator.

Experiments at a synchrotron radiation facility

Various techniques are used in the experiments: imaging, spectroscopy and scattering. The techniques are often combined and together they offer researchers opportunities to study and develop new drugs, efficient batteries and solar cells, as well as alloys, paper, fabrics and plastics with new functions. Pollutants in water and soil can be measured in order to identify new ways to tackle contamination. Historical and archaeological objects can be examined without damaging them. Healthy and diseased cells and tissue can be analysed as a basis for developing new treatments.

However, the majority of the experiments are for basic research, which aims to give us insights into the workings of the smallest components in materials. This knowledge is necessary for pursuingworkings of the smallest components in materials. This knowledge is necessary for pursuing more applied research such as the examples mentioned above.

Imaging provides knowledge on what materials look like from the outside, as in a photograph, or from within, as in an X-ray image. The method delivers an image or film in two or more dimensions. The techniques used include microscopy and tomography. With nanometre resolution it is possible to see an electronic component that has been built using nanotechnology. The technique can be used to see how the nanostructures within the component are affected when it is used, providing insights into how better and more efficient components can be built, such as more reliable catalysts.

Spectroscopy provides knowledge on chemistry and where the components in matter are positioned in relation to each other. Spectroscopy involves methods based on measuring the response that arises in the material when it is illuminated with various types of light. The techniques used include photoelectron spectroscopy and fluorescence. These techniques can be utilised to identify the chemical composition of an examined sample. Spectroscopy can be used to identify which trace substances are present in plant samples. This can, for example, provide a better understanding of how metals are taken up by plants and the resulting environmental impact. It is also possible to see how atoms and molecules interact on a catalytically active surface in order to develop more effective catalytic converters in exhaust emission control systems.

Scatteringprovides knowledge on the structure of atoms or molecules. Scattering is a term that covers various phenomena that arise when light meets a material. The light can be reflected or change direction when it passes through the material. These changes can be measured. The techniques used for scattering include X-ray crystallography and powder diffraction.These techniques can be used to identify how the atoms or molecules are positioned in relation to each other, which is important for the characteristics – mechanical, magnetic, electronic, etc. – of the matter or material. Scattering can be used to observe battery materials in order to see how the atoms move when the battery is charged and thereby gain a better understanding of how improved, lighter and cheaper batteries can be designed.It is also possible to see how the structure of a material changes when it is subjected to mechanical forces. This provides knowledge that can be used to develop new, stronger materials with higher breaking strength.