Richard Gillilan, MacCHESS staff scientist, loads a biological sample in preparation for X-rays.

Courtesy of Cornell University

Richard Gillilan, MacCHESS staff scientist, loads a biological sample in preparation for X-rays.

October 8, 2019

Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source Receives $7.1 Million Grant from Air Force

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Underneath Schoellkopf Field, academics from around the world gather to work in one of Cornell’s most unique research facilities — a facility that just received a $7.1 million grant from the United States Air Force.

The Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source is a facility in which particles travel at the speed of light, emitting X-ray beams that allow researchers to view objects in never-before-seen ways.

CHESS will use The Air Force Research Lab’s grant to create the Material Solutions Network, a new materials research subfacility that will “provide dedicated access to two new X-ray beamlines at CHESS for Air Force and other Department of Defense materials researchers, and original equipment manufacturers,” according to the University.

The main facility was built from 1978 to 1980, when Prof. Robert Wilson, physics, found an innovative way to build the most powerful particle accelerator at the time. The facility was constructed under the main athletic field because of the ideal soil located there, and because the layer of earth provided for extra protection from the radiation.

Professors and researchers both from Cornell and around the world apply to use the facility to conduct revolutionary research, ranging from observing the deformation of metals under high-pressure situations to X-raying historical paintings to find the types of paints that were used to make them.

Prof. Matthew Miller, mechanical and aerospace engineering, associate director of CHESS and principal investigator for the Material Solutions Network, spoke with The Sun about the benefits of CHESS to the Cornell community, the applications of the research that is conducted at CHESS and why CHESS received the grant.

“CHESS is the only facility of its kind that is on a central campus,” Miller said, which provides a “real opportunity for Cornell faculty, and particularly, Cornell students.” He mentioned that research is conducted year-round at CHESS, and that there are also research programs over the summer for undergraduates from universities across the country. At any given time, Miller estimated that 30 to 40 undergraduate students are working at CHESS.

Miller also elaborated on who the facility serves and what types of research it is used for: Users can come in from anywhere from two days to a week, collect their data, and then the facility can be used by another group. This process allows CHESS to “serve X-ray users from around the world,” Miller said.

There are only five other sources in the world that produce the same type of X-rays as CHESS, and only one other in the United States — the Advanced Photon Source in Illinois. This is one of the aspects that makes CHESS so unique, and one of the draws for the Air Force’s funding.

The Air Force has funded research at CHESS for the past 10 years, just recently providing $8 million as a part of the 2019 fiscal year defense appropriations bill. However, this is the first time that the lab will shell out directly for the construction of a new research subfacility.

According to Miller, CHESS is “the kind of facility that makes Cornell such a unique place.”