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Margaret Bazura

Forging The Blue Line

Mark Banas

6 Billion electron-volts and 1 tiny crystal

Beamline 14, ESRF Synchrotron, Grenoble, France

September 25, 2005 - 10:30 AM local time

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© 2005 Mark Banas, All Rights Reserved.


The ESRF (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility) at Grenoble is one of the most powerful synchrotron research facilities in the world. It produces and controls an extremely high-energy, focused X-ray beam that is used as a "super microscope" to examine the atomic structure of items in our larger world. The X-rays produced by this giant, circular synchrotron are nearly a trillion times more powerful than what is used for medical images, and are focused into beams narrower than a human hair.

This panorama was shot inside one of the lead-lined "experiment cabins" that lay at tangents to the main synchrotron ring. The long metal tube extending to the right is what carries a portion of the circulating beam into the room, and specific equipment at this station allows that beam to be "tuned" to various wavelengths. At the end of the beam (and shown magnified on the screen above it) sits a frozen crystal of purified protein that will be exposed to the high energy beam to determine the atomic structure of the individual protein itself. Across from this, on the left side, is the large electron detector which functions as a giant digital camera to capture the X-ray diffraction patterns after they pass through the crystal.

Because this room is exposed to the X-ray beam during experiments, most of the equipment you see is designed to be operated by remote control once the experiment is set up, and safety systems insure that no humans are inside when the shutter for the beam is opened. This panorama was taken while the beam was off, so the door is seen open, and much of the equipment is being taken offline after weeks of non-stop work.

If you want to imagine the magnification of this "super microscope," zoom in on the tiny crystal being examined (a white speck where the metal tubes converge) and then use the Google Earth link (below) to "zoom way out" and see the synchrotron ring itself surrounded by the Vercors and Chartreuse mountains.

Special thanks to Dr. Martin Walsh and Dr. Max Nanao of the BM14 CRG beamline for this rare view of a working experiment cabin.

Additional Captions: Interesting ESRF Facts ▼ Behind the scenes : how this panorama was made ▼

European Synchrotron Radiation Facility

BM14 UK MAD Beamline site



Europe / France

Lat: 45° 12' 30" N
Long: 5° 41' 23" E

Elevation: 200m

→ maps.google.com [EXT]

Precision is: Unknown / Undeclared.

OpenStreetMap: © OpenStreetMap contributors


(Cheap, fast, light!) Canon 300D, Sigma 8mm lens, Agnos MrotatorC head, PTMac, and some very kind scientists.

Interesting ESRF Facts

The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility is funded by 17 European countries and Israel, and is used by 3500 researchers each year for experiments in every aspect of science.

The high-security campus for the synchrotron lies at the confluence of the Drac and Isere rivers in the southeast corner of France, at the foothills of the French Alps. ("Foothills" here can mean 2400 meters tall!)

The electrons emitted by the main electron gun are accelerated to reach an energy level of 6 billion electron-volts (6 GeV), and the power to do all of this is provided by a dedicated power plant on the campus.

The main synchrotron is a large (844 meters in circumference) storage ring where electrons circulate in a vacuum, at a constant energy, before being diverted into some of the 40 beamlines.

600 people work at the ESRF to maintain the facility, assist visiting researchers, develop new technologies, and carry out their own experiments.

Behind the scenes : how this panorama was made

The panoramic rig was set up on a carbon-fiber tripod with two legs collapsed and extended at near horizontal on the sample mounting area, with the third leg going off the edge of the table onto the floor.

The Agnos panoramic head and my camera take up very little room when rotating, so the 3 photos were simply taken with a timer (so no shadows would be visible) and a pause to rotate the head between each shot.

The images were stitched together with PTMac and blended with Enblend, with some minor retouching to the seams. The hardest part was cloning the tripod out of the photographs since it spread across most of the table - and I forgot to take a "down" shot! Thank heaven for Photoshop...
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