The Advanced Photon Source
a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility

Research Techniques

The unique properties of synchrotron radiation are its continuous spectrum, high flux and brightness, and high coherence, which make it an indispensable tool in the exploration of matter. The wavelengths of the emitted photons span a range of dimensions from the atomic level to biological cells, thereby providing incisive probes for advanced research in materials science, physical and chemical sciences, metrology, geosciences, environmental sciences, biosciences, medical sciences, and pharmaceutical sciences. The features of synchrotron radiation are especially well matched to the needs of nanoscience.

This breadth of problems requires an extensive suite of probes. The basic components of a beamline, however, share general similarities as shown in the schematic diagram below.

The fundamental parameters that we use to perceive the physical world (energy, momentum, position, and time) correspond to three broad categories of synchrotron experimental measurement techniques: spectroscopy, scattering, and imaging. By exploiting the short pulse lengths of synchrotron radiation, each technique can be performed in a timing fashion.


Spectroscopy is used to study the energies of particles that are emitted or absorbed by samples that are exposed to the light-source beam and is commonly used to determine the characteristics of chemical bonding and electron motion. 


Scattering makes use of the patterns of light produced when x-rays are deflected by the closely spaced lattice of atoms in solids and is commonly used to determine the structures of crystals and large molecules such as proteins. 


Imaging techniques use the light-source beam to obtain pictures with fine spatial resolution of the samples under study and are used in diverse research areas such as cell biology, lithography, infrared microscopy, radiology, and x-ray tomography.