Brazil opens world’s most advanced synchrotron

. Nov 14, 2018

Walking across the high-technology hub in Campinas (a city 100 kilometers away from São Paulo) can be a bit monotonous. The pole of scientific innovation is little more than a few concrete buildings, surrounded by immense parking lots. However, now there is one construction which stands out, looking like a sports arena built in the middle of nowhere. It is Sirius, the particle accelerator which is Brazil’s biggest and most complex scientific structure to date. After four years, the state-of-the-art building is finally ready.

Sirius is, more specifically, a synchrotron, a particular kind of accelerator which moves particles around a fixed, closed-loop pattern. In addition to providing a great source of energy, synchrotrons can serve for various applications in the scientific and industrial field. Its wide range of possibilities includes petroleum extraction, research in brain formation, determining the composition of chemicals and geological materials, as well as certain treatments of cancer.

</p> <figure class="wp-block-image alignnone size-large wp-image-11384"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="576" src="" alt="sirius particle accelerator synchrotron" class="wp-image-11384" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Sirius: almost as big as Maracanã Stadium</figcaption></figure> <p>At a cost of BRL 1.8 billion, Sirius is by far the most ambitious scientific project in Brazil, and, astonishingly, it survived the economic crisis. Between 2000 and 2013, the budget for science and research grew at unprecedented levels, only to take a nosedive as the country was engulfed by its worst recession on record. But the particle accelerator had its budget somewhat preserved, allowing it to be inaugurated this year. &#8220;It is the only project of the kind (in Brazil) without major delays,&#8221; said Rogério Leite, from the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials, to <a href="">Fapesp</a>. However, to keep it fully functioning, it will take BRL 120 million a year.</p> <p>Sirius will post some impressive numbers: the 68,000 square-meter construction will house a ring-shaped structure with a circumference of 500 meters. For the time being, it will be the world&#8217;s most advanced synchrotron. Other countries with active synchrotrons include Switzerland, Russia, South Korea, Iran, Jordan, China, France, and Germany. The United States has 16 synchrotrons, while Japan has 13.</p> <p>Electrons passed through Sirius will travel at almost 300,000 kilometers per second, allowing scientists to extract concentrated beams of light which can penetrate even dense materials, such as rock, and allowing for defined images of points which are only nanometers apart.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image alignnone wp-image-11382 size-full"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="726" src="" alt="sirius particle accelerator synchrotron" class="wp-image-11382" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>The linear electron accelerator</figcaption></figure> <h2>Attracting talented minds</h2> <p>Sirius will now replace UVX, Brazil&#8217;s first particle accelerator, inaugurated in the 1990s by then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso but no longer competitive. Sirius will now bring images at a resolution 1,000 times higher than UVX. But even if the former particle accelerator was outdated, it allowed University of São Paulo physicist Glaucius Oliva to identify a protein essential to the reproduction of the <a href="">Zika virus</a>.</p> <p>In a country where reports in the field are, more often than not, about <a href="">brain drain</a>—that is, how Brazil&#8217;s lack of funding for sciences is forcing researchers out of the country—Sirius comes with the intention to set a different trend. &#8220;When it was decided that [Brazil] would build a synchrotron, the only operational model that made sense was to emulate what the Americans do, that is, a facility open to foreign companies and research institutions,&#8221; says Cylon Gonçalves da Silva, one of the project&#8217;s coordinators. &#8220;Sirius is a mere &#8216;excuse&#8217; to train qualified scientists, capable or generating state of the art technology here.&#8221;</p> <p>Mammoth projects such as Sirius demand a continuous flow of funding, enormous scientific capacity and almost always generate disputes. As soon as Brazil announced its first national project for synchrotron light, the Brazilian Physics Society published a manifesto against it. It said that Brazil didn&#8217;t have the capacity to build the project, that there wouldn&#8217;t be enough scientists to use it, and that it would drain resources from other areas. &#8220;But we built it, we gathered over 6,200 people who want to use Sirius, and the level of funding has increased,&#8221; said the accelerator&#8217;s coordinators.</p> <p>About 90 percent of the pieces used in Sirius were developed in Campinas&#8217; National Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS). The linear electron accelerator is an exception, having been bought for USD 6 million from the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics &#8211; Chinese Academy of Sciences.</p> <p>Fernanda De Negri, from the Brazilian Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea), mentions in her book <em>Novos caminhos para a inovação no Brasil</em> (&#8220;New paths for <a href="">innovation in Brazil</a>&#8220;) that Sirius is a rare example of a long-term scientific project in Brazil. &#8220;In many fields, structures such as Sirius are necessary to generate high-quality science, making Brazil more competitive.&#8221;

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