The ultimate microscope
Since 1993, researchers at the Advanced Light Source, a particle accelerator in Berkeley, California, have been sending a photon beam a million times as bright as the sun’s surface into proteins, battery electrodes, superconductors and other materials to reveal their atomic, molecular and electronic properties.
The ALS is one of the brightest sources of soft x-rays, which have the right wavelengths for spectromicroscopy, a scientific technique that reveals both the structural and chemical makeup of samples only a few nanometers wide. In 2006, scientists at the ALS helped determine that dust captured from the tail of a comet formed near the sun very early in the solar system’s history, showing that the cosmic ingredients that originated in our corner of the universe started mixing earlier than we thought. That same year, Roger D. Kornberg of Stanford University won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work at the ALS on the 3-D structure of RNA polymerase enzymes. The structural data allowed him to describe how DNA is translated into RNA during a process called transcription.
What’s In It For You
Work at the ALS on a protein associated with melanoma aided the development of a novel medication to combat the disease. The drug is currently in Phase II and III clinical trials. Other data from ALS could lead to high-capacity lithium battery electrodes, which would increase the battery’s charge capacity. Finally, understanding the physical and electronic structure of flat sheets of carbon, called graphene, could spur the development of atomic-scale transistors and much faster computer processors.