CHESS Facility

People gathered around the CHESS Lab

This story originally appeared in the Cornell Daily Sun. 

With goals to keep the U.S. competitive in science, the National Science Foundation announced on July 18 a $54 million grant that will be used over the next five years to develop a research and education sub-facility at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source, a sophisticated x-ray machine.

Located at 161 Synchrotron Drive on the Ithaca Campus, behind Riley Robb Hall and the Dairy Bar, CHESS is one of the only two high-energy synchrotron light sources in the country. Each year it receives over 1,200 scientists, students and researchers from all around the world who use it to collect data for their projects.

The new facility, called the Center for High Energy X-ray Sciences, will include four beamlines and staff to support teams conducting operations at the x-ray machine.

While other synchrotron laboratories are traditionally located at national labs, Cornell is the only American university still operating a large accelerator complex — a machine that increases the energy of the particles passing through.

The NSF had been the sole funder of CHESS since its founding in 1980. This changed in April 2019, when Cornell transitioned to a new funding model in which multiple partners will steward facilities at CHESS. However, the NSF has remained the primary funder.

“The renewal of NSF funding for Cornell’s CHESS Lab will ensure the country and Cornell University remain at the cutting-edge of innovation in high-energy x-ray applications,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the key proponents for increased scientific funding, in a press release.

While the machine is attractive to researchers worldwide, CHESS has also seen many Cornell students getting involved. Cornell Ph.D. candidates account for roughly 20 percent of the nation’s graduate students who are trained in accelerator science and advanced x-ray technology. Approximately 60 undergraduates also participate in CHESS laboratory research every year, according to information provided Cornell’s Media Relations office.

“As a national user facility, CHESS brings scientists from around the country and world right here to do groundbreaking research. Now, that research is paying off as we see the development of new high-tech materials, validation of advanced manufacturing techniques, and the discovery of life-saving drugs,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who represents New York’s 23rd district, to which Ithaca belongs.

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