ITHACA, N.Y — Cornell‘s particle accelerator facility — which is the site of vast, discipline-spanning scientific research — has received $8.5M in federal funding secured by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Schumer announced the funds on Thursday at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) with a roster of local and state politicians, Cornell leadership, and a crowd of scientists.

The $8.5M adds to a $32M expansion project breaking ground at the CHESS facility, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Schumer emphasized the boost the funding will bring to upstart New York’s “innovation economy” citing that the expansion of CHESS will add over 150 jobs in science and tech at the facility, and another 150 for construction and maintenance of the facility.

Schumer — with his now iconic ‘Ithaca is Gorges’ mask set aside — said that CHESS is going to be pushing “cutting edge research that the rest of the world follows and needs.”

From left: President of Tompkins Cortland Building Trades Todd Breuer; Acting Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis; NYS Assemblymember Anna Kelles; Tompkins County Legislature Vice Chair Deborah Dawson; U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. (04/15/2022) Credit: Jimmy Jordan / The Ithaca Voice

In simple terms, the synchrotron is a particle accelerator. It’s a ring in which high-energy electrons are made to travel rapidly around, producing an intense beam of light that can be used for producing incredibly powerful x-rays. This circular light beam has different shooting-off-points where it’s directed toward different lead lined rooms where scientists are able to use the x-rays to study things down to an atomic level. These lead-lined rooms are called “beamlines.”

Chris Pollock, a staff scientist at CHESS said, “The way that you can think about it is at the doctor’s office you use the x-rays to see your bones — you see the things that hold your body together. Well, here the things we’re using the x-rays for are to see electrons which are the things that hold molecules together and materials together.” 

Director of the CHESS Lab, Joel Brock, said, “If the machine in your dentist’s office is a candle, we’re the lights at Shea Stadium.”

A scientist at work on one of CHESS’ “beamlines” — lead lined rooms which protect them from the intense x-rays the use to conduct research. (04/14/2022). Credit: Jimmy Jordan / The Ithaca Voice

The diversity of research that utilizes Cornell’s synchrotron facility is massive. In house research by staff scientists are conducted there as well as work conducted by an international community of scientists. Among other topics, Pollock said he is focused on fuel cells and trying to improve the capacities of batteries, and trying to expand the 

The facility is used to study how metals move through plants and animals, developing more lightweight materials for aircraft; some scientists are using the facility to read ancient texts that would be destroyed if they were attempted to be opened. Another researcher is exploring the potential of moon dust serving as an ingredient in cement, in case humans may want to build permanent structures on its surface.

Cornell President Martha Pollack called CHESS a “crown jewel of scientific research” at the university.

The expansion of CHESS will add a high magnetic field beamline to the synchrotron, expanding the breadth of the research that the facility can conduct and make it one of the world’s most state-of-the-art particle accelerator facilities.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at jjordan@ithacavoice.com Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn