SLAC Today logo

Director's Column: SPEAR3 Turns Three and a Personal Note

Many of us remember the dedication ceremony for SPEAR3 on January 29, 2004. It was a joyful event celebrating a lot of planning, hard work and skillful execution. On SPEAR3's third birthday, it's good to take a few moments to reflect on the accomplishments since that beginning over three years ago.

First, it's a remarkable thing to consider that the final phase of the SPEAR3 project, including removal of the old accelerator and installation of new hardware, along with commissioning for users, all took place in less than a calendar year. This was truly an outstanding achievement, and that pattern of efficiency continues to this day with SPEAR3 operating extremely reliably (delivering about 96% of scheduled beam to users since 2004).

The new storage ring offers many improvements over SPEAR2. SPEAR3 creates a lower emittance beam that is much brighter, which ultimately means a much smaller x-ray spot size of higher intensity that improves the range of possible research. And now, with the recent upgrade to the fast orbit feedback system, this high-quality beam is more stable than ever.

High brightness enables investigations such as those with the x-ray microprobes at Beamlines 6-2 and 2-3, which reveal the chemistry and molecular arrangement within a diversity of materials with spatial resolution on the micron scale. This year researchers used these tools to characterize samples returned from space during the Stardust mission, and fly brains affected by an Alzheimer's-like disease. In addition, ongoing research is helping scientists characterize the behavior of environmental contaminants like uranium.

The beam flux and stability of SPEAR3 has vastly improved and streamlined macromolecular crystallography research at SSRL. This field of research is yielding discoveries in biology and medicine that could lead to new treatments for disease and are deepening our understanding of the human genome. The new Beamline 12-2 developed in partnership with CalTech and the Moore Foundation saw initial commissioning in late fall 2006. Beamline 12 takes optimum advantage of SPEAR3's performance to serve SSRL's first in-vacuum undulator. This undulator produces hard x-rays for high-throughput protein crystallographic studies that will further deepen the impact of this important research. And perhaps most notably, in September of last year, Stanford's Professor Roger Kornberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his decoding of the molecular mechanism of RNA transcription—research in which synchrotron-enabled macromolecular crystallography largely done at SSRL played a central role.

The last three years have been a great success, and further planned upgrades to SPEAR3 promise an even more exciting future. Last summer, SPEAR3 was successfully operated at the design current of 500 mA. This year, modifications will continue toward commissioning the beamlines for use at this higher current. Congratulations and thanks to all of you who have contributed to SPEAR3's first three years, and Happy Birthday SPEAR3!

On a personal note, I would like to end this column inSLAC Today by saying that it has been a privilege to serve you all in my capacity as Acting SLAC Director for these past two months. Thank you for your help and support during this busy period on a range of activities that have included a number reviews and issues concerning the budget and continuing resolution. We are all looking forward to Jonathan's return to the laboratory next week. He will resume his regular Director's Column on Monday, February 12.

—Keith Hodgson, February 5, 2007