SSRL 50th web banner image
SSRL turns 50

Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource | 50 years

Celebrating SSRL’s 50th anniversary.

On April 20, 2023 we celebrated 50 years of transformative science at SSRL. This unique event acknowledged many individuals who have made SSRL such a vital and impactful facility through partnerships among SSRL users and staff that fuel our success.

SSRL website

SSRL 50th celebration at Stanford.
Celebrating SSRL's 50th Anniversary at Stanford University's Cantor Arts Center. (Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
Lead Scientist Johanna Nelson Weker gives a talk about energy materials science
Lead Scientist Johanna Nelson Weker gives a talk about energy materials science at SSRL's 50th anniversary symposium held at Kavli Auditorium on April 20, 2023. (Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

Join us in celebrating this impressive achievement and SSRL’s continued commitment to cutting-edge research.

Paul McIntyre SSRL Associate Lab Director
Paul McIntyre
(Jacqueline Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
SSRL’s 50th Anniversary group photo
Celebration of SSRL’s 50th Anniversary, group photo held on main quad on April 20, 2023. (Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
Video
SLAC Recent History (1973-2023 Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource) - How did Synchrotrons become global X-ray powerhouses? (Olivier Bonin/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
Follow and share

#SSRLturns50

1973-1982

The founding years

SPEAR storage ring x-ray on the left and rearranged shielding blocks from the Pilot Project at SSRL.
Image of the first x-ray beam extracted from the SPEAR storage ring hitting a fluorescent screen (left) and of the original pilot project in the makeshift alcove consisting of rearranged shielding blocks (right). (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

The Stanford Positron Electron Asymmetric Ring (SPEAR) was created in 1972 as a high energy physics colliding beam facility to discover new particles.  It did not take long for Stanford University researchers to harness the intense x-ray beams generated by the circulating electrons to probe materials in new ways.  In collaboration with SLAC scientists, this resulted in a Pilot Project which in 1973 extracted the first x-ray beams from SPEAR. The facility led to the discovery of the J/psi particle and tau lepton, earning researchers the 1976 & 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics.

A user facility

SSRL as a National User Facility

Starting in 1977 with new funding from the National Science Foundation, SSRL (then known as the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Project, SSRP) moved from being an experimental project to a national user facility. SSRL would go on to become one of the pioneering synchrotron facilities in the world, known for outstanding user support and important contributions to science and instrumentation. SSRL’s funding moved to DOE in 1982.

SSRL staff photo from 1977 (left) and the founding directors, William E. Spicer, Deputy Director and Sebastian Doniach, Director (right).
SSRL staff photo from 1977 (left) and the founding directors, William E. Spicer, Deputy Director and Sebastian Doniach, Director (right).  (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
1982-2003

SSRL Evolves

View of a section of the upgraded SPEAR3 synchrotron
A view inside the SSRL accelerator tunnel and a section of the upgraded SPEAR3 synchrotron in 2005. (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

In 1990, SSRL built its own injector booster ring, which allowed the facility to become independent of the SLAC LINAC.  SPEAR became fully dedicated as the SSRL synchrotron source in 1991 with a first long run in 1993.  

In 2003, SPEAR went through a major rebuild and became the low-emittance SPEAR3 storage ring. This renovation also included significant upgrades to several of the beam lines. 

A diagram of the first SSRL facility in 1974
The first SSRL facility consisted of a single beam line with five simultaneously operating experimental stations going all the way from vacuum ultraviolet to hard x-rays. Participating research teams included: UV (China Lake Laboratory), EXAFS (U. of Washington and Bell Laboratories), UV+soft x-ray (Xerox Corporation), biological x-ray diffraction (Cal Tech.), and XPS (Stanford University). (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
2003 to today

Global reach

Continued beam line and accelerator upgrades are enabling SSRL to further its significant contributions to scientific discovery, development and training of the future workforce. SSRL operates about nine months of the year with over 30 different experimental stations available for users from universities, private industry, government labs and foreign institutions in numerous disciplines, including chemistry, biology, medicine, environmental science, materials science, engineering, and applied physics. Over 1,500 scientists from institutions around the world visit SSRL to contact their research experiments every year.  

SSRL fact sheet (pdf)

Team at the RFX instrument in Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) at SLAC.
Researchers stand next to the RFX instrument inside of SSRL. (Jacqueline Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
This illustration depicts the basic components of a synchrotron light source, such as SSRL at SLAC.
This illustration depicts the basic components of a synchrotron light source, such as SSRL at SLAC. Electrons are produced with the electron gun and accelerated in the booster ring. As the electrons curve around the storage ring with the help of bending magnets, they emit X-ray light that is then focused into beams aimed at samples scientists wish to study in the experimental stations. (Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
present and past

SSRL directors

Paul McIntyre

Portrait of Paul McIntyre, associate lab director, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) Directorate

Kelly Gaffney

Kelly Gaffney

Piero Pianetta

Piero Pianetta

Chi-Chang Kao

Former Director of SLAC, Chi-Chang Kao

Joachim Stöhr

SSRL director 2005 – 2009

Keith Hodgson

SSRL director 1998 – 2005

Artie Bienenstock

Artie Bienenstock

Sebastian Doniach

Sebastian Doniach
Synchrotron

Video gallery

Stillframe for SSRL history video
Video
Watch the history of SLAC's Stanford Radiation Light Source celebrating 50 years in 2023.  (Olivier Bonin/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
video still frame of synchrotron explainer
Video
Watch this video for a simple explanation of what a synchrotron is and why there are 60 around the world today. (Olivier Bonin/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
video still frame about X-ray crystallography at SSRL
Video
Jeney Wierman, a staff scientist at SLAC, explains how SSRL tools are contributing to COVID-19 research. (Olivier Bonin/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
video still frame from lecture about fossil colors
Video
This lecture, Discovering the Colors of Fossil Creatures, presented by Nick Edwards explores the new area of scientific study, including discoveries made with advanced X-ray imaging techniques at SLAC and Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL). (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

 

Photos from the SSRL 50th Anniversary Celebration

 

SSRL 50th Anniversary Celebration

 

Dig deeper

Synchrotron news

News Feature

Scientists at Stanford and NYU have published and investigated a new structure of the protein LAG-3 which could enable the development of new cancer...

Three people in lab coats examine chemistry equipment.
News Feature

A   swap of metals and a mutation ramp up the electric field strength at the active site of an enzyme, making it  ...

Illustration of an enzyme modified to work 50 times faster
News Feature

Powerful X-rays generated at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory help researchers shed new light on feather evolution.

This figure shows how protein compositions in feathers change over time and temperature.
News Feature

Scientists at Stanford and NYU have published and investigated a new structure of the protein LAG-3 which could enable the development of new cancer...

Three people in lab coats examine chemistry equipment.
News Feature

A   swap of metals and a mutation ramp up the electric field strength at the active site of an enzyme, making it  ...

Illustration of an enzyme modified to work 50 times faster
News Feature

Powerful X-rays generated at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory help researchers shed new light on feather evolution.

This figure shows how protein compositions in feathers change over time and temperature.
News Feature

Sebek’s extraordinary career at SSRL includes helping build the facility’s original electron injector back in the 1980s and working on almost all of its...

This photograph shows 2023 Lytle award winner Jim Sebek at work on SSRL's electrical systems.
News Feature

James’ research on chronic and acute mercury exposure challenges conventional views

Ashley James sits on a park bench.
News Brief

They aim to help society respond ten times faster with treatments for future disease outbreaks.

This is a portrait photograph of SSRL scientist Aina Cohen.