In Spanish, “alba” refers to the first appearance of daylight in the morning. But now, ALBA is something more. ALBA is the only synchrotron light source built in Spain, which is giving service to more than 1,000 researchers every year in the academic and industrial sectors.
The ALBA Synchrotron is aimed at producing synchrotron light, a range of electromagnetic radiation, from infrared to hard X-rays. Researchers come to our facility to use this radiation for analysing the properties of matter. By using synchrotron light, they can study how light is absorbed, diffracted, scattered by their samples making possible to understand very tiny details and characteristics about their structure.
In fact, what we call “synchrotron light” is not something new. It has always existed in our universe. In a star, electrons travelling at almost the speed of light emit synchrotron radiation when they are under electromagnetic forces. However, in the last 75 years, humankind has been able to reproduce this phenomenon at the Earth. To do so, we have built synchrotron facilities: huge research infrastructures, composed by different accelerator rings where we speed up the electrons, keep them in a circular orbit and force them to emit synchrotron light when passing through magnetic devices to finally use this light in the experiments.
Synchrotron light facilities offer great opportunities to the scientific community, pushing the frontiers of science till the very end. Synchrotron light’s incredible properties make possible to obtain valuable information in very short periods of time but also can benefit researchers from its versatility while performing an experiment. In words of Sir Gustav Nossal, distinguished research biologist, “the usefulness of synchrotron light is limited only by our imagination”.
A Spanish synchrotron, now a reality
The ALBA Synchrotron project began at the beginning of the 90’s, promoted by professor Ramon Pascual and the Spanish scientific community, who had already visited other facilities worldwide and knew about its scientific capabilities. Ten years later, the ALBA Synchrotron was approved and started its design and construction.
Now, ALBA is a reality. Its seven phase-I beamlines are fully operational, assisting different research projects: from materials science to structural biology, magnetic properties or historical conservation. New beamlines are being built and proposed and, in the future, novel instruments will be available at our premises.
A multidisplicinary tool
Although ALBA started its operation with official users in 2012, many experiments have already been developed at our facility.
Using our brilliant light, Spanish researchers have been able to prove the efficacy of a synthetic protein with potential to inhibit HIV-1, the most common and pathogenic strain of the human immunodeficiency virus (AIDS) that has killed 39 million lives so far.
The search for renewable energies can find a good ally in synchrotron facilities because of its possibilities analysing catalytic reactions. A recent study performed in our facility demonstrated for the first time that atoms react differently depending on the characteristics of the support used in a catalyst. This information is of great interest because catalysts can eliminate pollution from gases emitted by vehicles with combustion engines.
ALBA’s beam has also enlightened artistic materials such as the Altarpiece of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins, a masterpiece of the Spanish Gothic Art, to give insight in the materials and processing techniques and aging processes.
Improving our near future
The ALBA Synchrotron is the most ambitious research project developed in Spain. For that reason, we are committed to perform a research of excellence as well as to actively contribute in the growth of science industry.
A synchrotron facility brings many technological developments in areas like computing, vacuum technologies, alignment and stability, advanced engineering, cryogenics, accelerators physics,… Some of these results can be useful for the society, promoting the knowledge transfer and the technological and economic progress of our region.
Ana Belén Martínez is a Communication and Outreach Officer at the ALBA Synchrotron, located in Cerdanyola del Vallès (Spain).