History & Lore
Last Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of an historic event: In 1973, a team of research pioneers extracted hard X-rays for the first time from SLAC's SPEAR accelerator. Like X-rays from an X-ray tube, the radiation generated by SPEAR can deeply penetrate a large variety of materials and probe their inner structures. However, SPEAR's X-rays are significantly more intense and unlock the possibility for brand new science.
In 1971, physicist Burton Richter of Stanford Linear Accelerator Center was building a new type of particle collider called a storage ring. The lab’s two-mile-long linear accelerator—housed in what was then the longest building in the world—would shoot electrons and their antimatter twins, called positrons, into the 80-meter-diameter Stanford Positron Electron Accelerating Ring, and SPEAR would set the beams of particles on a collision course. Richter and his colleagues stood by to examine the debris to see what discoveries came out.