History the Brazilian Synchrotron Light National Laboratory. Part 1: The dream of a big research machine in Brazil and the first steps toward the construction of the laboratory.



This photo of LNLS shows the main accelerator and the beamlines. Credits: Julio Fujikawa / Divulgação LNLS.

Since 1997, at the Brazilian Synchrotron Light National Laboratory (LNLS), in the city of Campinas, in São Paulo state, electrons accelerated at a speed very close to the light speed and compressed in a beam of the thickness of a strand of hair travel a 93-meter-long polygon, called “storage ring”, generating a type of radiation of unique brightness with important applications in the study of organic and inorganic matter, the synchrotron light.

In several points around the ring, scientists, mainly from academia but also from industry simultaneously work in several small laboratories, known as “experimental stations” or “beamlines’, which scientific instruments use the beams generated by the synchrotron light source after having been filtered by monochromators. Thanks to such filters, each experiment receives the type of radiation of the electromagnetic spectrum it needs, from infrared up to X-rays.

Still today, the synchrotron light source of LNLS is the single one in Latin America. Since the opening of the laboratory, the use of the experimental stations is free and open to the international scientific community. The candidates submit their research projects to a committee composed by members of the scientific community, which sends them to peer review. The accepted proposals get a room in the busy agenda of LNLS, during the day or at night. In the last few years, the laboratory has benefited around 1,500 researchers a year, original from Brazil (the majority), from Argentina (approximately 17%) and, in smaller proportions, from other countries.

The LNLS research resources are used in works of the most varied knowledge areas, such as Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Environmental Sciences, Geo-sciences and, especially, Material Science and Engineering. “For an expressive number of researches of such area in Brazil, the LNLS beamlines are some of the main measurement instruments in their research programs”, says Harry Westfahl Jr., scientific director of LNLS from March, 2013.

According to Aldo Felix Craievich, a scientist that had an important participation throughout the creation process of LNLS and was its first scientific director, one of the purposes of the laboratory, since the beginning, was to offer to the researchers on Material Science and Engineering a unique and good quality experimental infrastructure. “The operation of LNLS during 17 years already allowed many Material scientists and engineers to perform research in the beamlines in very favorable conditions. And most of these studies would be impossible to perform in classic laboratories”, completes he.  In fact, the high intensity and other unique characteristics of synchrotron light allow to study the materials in a more detailed manner that the radiation that may be produced by sources found in the laboratories of the universities. “Today, a large fraction of materials are in fact nanomaterials and, in such context, the best X-ray tubes can´t compete with synchrotron radiation”, affirms Yves Petroff, French physicist that directed centers of synchrotron light in Europe and was the scientific director of LNLS from November, 2009 to March, 2013.

Having experimental techniques such as X-ray diffraction (XRD), small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), X-ray absorption (EXAFS, XANES), photoelectron spectroscopy (PES), VUV spectroscopy and microtomography, the beamlines at LNLS allow a broad and deep study of the structure and properties of the materials. “The researchers bring to LNLS the materials created in their laboratories, such as, for example, more resistant plastics, more efficient catalysts, or metals with unusual electronic and magnetic properties, to understand at microscopic level the manifestation of such innovative properties, or even to guide new synthesis paths”, exemplifies Harry Westfahl Jr.

According to Aldo Craievich, the contribution of LNLS to the development of Material Science is proven by the quantity and quantity of articles published in high-impact journals based on experimental studies performed in the laboratory. As an example, Craievich comments that, in the three-year period 2006-2008, out of a total of 547 papers generated from works developed at LNLS, which can be seen in the LNLS annual reports, 211 were published in journals of the area of Material Science, number that increases when adding the publications on Chemistry and Physics that deal with basic aspects of the properties of solid materials.

However, the contribution of LNLS to the scientific and technological development of Brazil has started before the laboratory got open to the scientific community. The process of creation and implementation of LNLS as a National Laboratory was a rich experience to its players, and an interesting history to know, especially because the greatest part of synchrotron light sources and of the light lines was designed and manufactured in the country.

LNLS Origin: the beginning

The wish to have in Brazil a great particle accelerator is as old as the community of physicists in the country. One of the first attempts of installing a machine of such type occurred early in the 1950’s and was characterized because it was a proposal of construction, instead of purchase. The military and scientist Admiral Álvaro Alberto de Motta e Silva, who had led the recent creation of the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and was at that time the president of the institution, saw in the University of Chicago a particle accelerator of synchrocyclotron type, and returned to Brazil with the proposal of manufacturing a small equipment of such type in Rio de Janeiro, at Brazilian Center for Research in Physics (CBPF), to train technicians and scientists of the country that subsequently would be able to manufacture a bigger machine. The project started in 1952. In 1960, the small synchrocyclotron worked for the first time, but, by several reasons, it has never been fully operational.

With the end of the hardest period of Brazilian Dictatorship, in which many scientists left the country, the issue of the big scientific machine was resumed and, in 1981, the president of CNPq, Lynaldo C. Albuquerque, called the scientific community to prepare proposals of big research machines to implement in Brazil. As a response, the first discussions on the construction of a synchrotron light source occurred in CBPF. At the end of the year, the proposal was presented by Roberto Lobo, director of CBPF, to the president of CNPq. In 1982, both scientists visited the French national laboratory of synchrotron light LURE, at Université Paris-Sud, where Aldo Craievich was taking a post-doctoral internship and acquiring valuable experience in applications of such radiation.

“Since the beginning, the small group of people that participated in such discussions noticed that, to move forward such great, high-complexity, and high-cost project, it was required to reach a consensus in the Brazilian scientific community, and attract a reasonable number of potential interested users”, comments Craievich. In the scientist’s memories, the first public presentation of the preliminary ideas occurred in the Brazilian National Meeting of Condensed Matter Physics held in the city of Cambuquira, in April, 1982. “In the occasion, it was observed a certain resistance of the scientific community upon being informed  of the high cost of the project, due to the fear that this could affect the funding of other projects in progress”, tells Craievich.

Even though, Lobo, Craievich, and some more researchers of CBPF prepared a first formal document aiming at the implementation of a new synchrotron light source in Brazil (“Preliminary proposal of the feasibility study for the implementation of a national laboratory of synchrotron radiation“), which was approved in 1983 by CNPq. CNPq created, then, the Synchrotronic Radiation Project (PRS), coordinated by Roberto Lobo, and engaged in allocating money to form human resources to develop the project and train future users. Also in 1983, in October, CNPq established the PRS executive committee, which was coordinated by Aldo Craievich (CBPF) and counted on more seven participants linked to CBPF, UFRJ, UNICAMP, and USP. Among them was Ricardo Rodrigues, who, some years latter, would be appointed technical director of the construction of the laboratory. To promote a greater disclosure and discussion of the project and the formation of future users, it was held, in August, 1983, at CBPF, the Meeting on Techniques and Applications of Synchrotron Radiation, with the participation of 220 scientists. Also with the purpose of forming new human resources, in early 1984, PRS launched a call offering CNPq’s scholarships for researchers and undergraduate, master´s and PhD students, on themes related to the construction of the source and beamlines and their applications.

Two more newness marked the year of 1984 in the history of LNLS. PRS passed to count on a technical-scientific committee (CTC), chaired by Roberto Lobo (USP), and formed by a dozen of scientists linked to CBPF, IPT, PUCRio, UNICAMP, and USP, including Cylon Gonçalves da Silva, who would become the first director of the laboratory in 1986, and would lead its effective implementation. Additionally, in December, 1984, CNPq took one more step toward the construction of the synchrotron light source upon creating the figure of the National Laboratory of Synchrotron Radiation (LNRS), with Roberto Lobo as pro tempore director, and still without a place assigned to its headquarters.

Right after the creation of LNRS, CNPq called the scientific community to propose places for the construction of the laboratory. From the four proposals – Rio de Janeiro, Niteroi, Campinas, and São Carlos – CNPq president, in one of the last resolutions of his tenure, a little before the end of military government, in February, 1985, chose Campinas as the future headquarters of LNRS.

In the next edition of SBPMat newsletter, don’t miss the article on the second part of this history – the phase of the construction of the laboratory.


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