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Synchrotron Trip Provides Rare Research Opportunity for Trent Undergrads

February 16, 2017

Team of Trent undergraduates headed to Cornell University’s High Energy Synchronic Source research lab

Three girls standing in front of a black board smiling, with physics formulas and diagrams written on the blackboard behind them.

Three undergraduates in Dr. Patrick Clancy’s second-year Physics class are getting the learning experience of a lifetime this Reading Week. Professor Clancy has spearheaded a trip to the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) research lab at Cornell University where students will do real-time research in one of only six synchrotrons, a large machine that accelerates electrons close to the speed of light, in North America.

During the six-day trip, which is a collaboration between Trent University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, second-year Mathematics and Physics student, Melissa Van Bussel, second-year Mathematical Physics student, Lindsey Munro, and second-year Physics student, Cassandra Thompson will have access to some of the most intense x-ray beams in the world.

“As a second-year student, it's rare to get an opportunity like this,” says Cassandra Thompson. “I'm looking forward to working with my peers and my professor, and gaining experience in the world of experimental physics. Hopefully no one is shrunk by the end of this!”

The CHESS facility is five stories below the football field at Cornell and has eleven beamlines, which means eleven different experiments can be going on simultaneously.

“This means you can have a biologist solving the structure of a protein right next to an engineer investigating microstrains in airplane parts or even an art historian studying artifacts and hidden paintings,” says Prof. Clancy who joined Trent to teach last fall in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“Materials research in general is hugely important to people’s day to day lives,” says Prof. Clancy. “From your cell phone, to your computer, to your microwave or your car: All of these depend on having countless materials with meticulously studied properties. At the synchrotron, you have research being carried out on energy materials, industrial materials, and biological materials.”

The Trent team will be carrying out an experiment to determine why lead rhodium oxide abruptly changes from a metal to an insulator at temperatures around 100 degrees below zero.  Using the extremely intense x-ray beams produced by the synchrotron, the team will study how the structure of this material changes down to the atomic level.  The synchrotron runs around the clock, but Prof. Clancy says, “The students will still get to sleep when they can.  Although if you are at the beamline all night it is usually a good sign for the experiment, since it means something especially exciting or unexpected must be going on.”