SLAC Overview

photo - SLAC's end station experiment yard at sunset

(Download a PDF of the SLAC Overview)

About Our Lab

As one of 17 Department of Energy national labs, SLAC pushes the frontiers of human knowledge and drives discoveries that benefit humankind. We invent the tools that make those discoveries possible and share them with scientists all over the world.

 

X-rays Reveal the Atomic World

photo: researchers posing with laser equipment

Our 2-mile-long particle accelerator is the lab’s backbone. Once the scene of major discoveries in particle physics, today it generates the world’s brightest X-rays for our revolutionary X-ray laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).

More than 2,000 scientists come to SLAC each year to use LCLS and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource to probe matter in atomic detail. These X-ray studies help scientists understand the fundamental workings of nature and find solutions to real-world problems.

 

Fundamental Science, Practical Benefits

artist rendering of a protein and laser light

When scientists delve into basic details of the world around us, practical benefits often follow. This is true of research at SLAC. In chemistry, “molecular movies” made with our X-ray laser are capturing all the tiny steps of chemical reactions for the first. This new understanding will help improve reactions that give us fuels, fertilizers and a host of other products. In biology, X-rays reveal how proteins – one of the key molecules of life – function in our bodies and in nature. This research has contributed to the development of medications for melanoma,  u and HIV and is aiding the fight against Ebola, high blood pressure and other ills. SLAC studies of exotic materials with quirky traits could have a profound impact on society, although it may be far in the future. Meanwhile, scientists use our X-ray beams for experiments to improve materials for computer chips, jet planes, refinery operations and “smart windows” that automatically adjust the amount of light coming in, to name a few.

Even the accelerator technology developed for basic physics experiments has had a huge impact in medicine and industry, where it shrinks tumors, sterilizes medical supplies and hardens materials, among many other things. SLAC researchers are working to make accelerators much smaller and cheaper so they can accomplish even more.

 

Solving Energy Challenges

Many threads of SLAC research come together in the quest for clean, sustainable energy sources. We study how plants make energy from sunlight with an eye to doing the same, and customize chemical reactions for generating clean fuels. Our specialized X-ray equipment allows scientists to watch batteries, solar cells and fuel cells in operation, a crucial step in improving how they work. 

 

An Eye on the Cosmos

design of a spinning pulsar in space

SLAC started more than 50 years ago as a place to discover fundamental particles and forces. Today, our scientists still explore the universe at the largest and smallest scales. At the tiniest scale, we help search for new particles and forces at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, where the Higgs boson was recently discovered. At the most sweeping scale, we’re building the world’s biggest digital camera for the widest, deepest survey of the night sky ever undertaken. Our longstanding expertise in building particle detectors is being put to use in experiments that search for dark matter and dark energy, probe the secrets of ghostly neutrinos, look for signs of cosmic in ation and capture high-energy particles from the most violent events in the universe.

 

Key Partnerships

Stanford University operates SLAC for the DOE Office of Science. We run four joint research centers with Stanford that focus on cosmology and astrophysics, materials and energy science, catalysis, and ultrafast science. SLAC’s location in Silicon Valley and our connections with DOE, Stanford and other leading research centers speed our progress. We also look for ways to work with industry to solve problems and spread the benefits of research out into society.

 

This documentary chronicles SLAC's history, shares personal experiences from some of its directors, scientists and innovators, and offers a glimpse into the many projects we're working on today. (Running time - 17:40) - Watch on Vimeo