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MAX IV – Making the invisible visible

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Advanced materials

When electrons travel around a near-circular tube at near-light speed they produce X-ray light. At the new research facility – MAX IV Laboratory – they will do so in a unique way thanks to MAX IV’s innovative and pioneering magnet technology. 

This light will help scientists understand materials in much finer detail, helping them solve some of the grand challenges of our times – from cancer research to novel energy materials.

The MAX IV Laboratory, a materials and life science research centre hosted by Lund University has been operating three synchrotron rings as MAX-Lab for almost 25 years. Each year, scientists from all over the world come to the laboratory to conduct research across a wide range of scientific disciplines – from basic physics to materials science, medicine, chemistry, biology, geology and advanced physics.

The new next generation synchrotron source MAX IV was inaugurated in June 2016 and is the brightest (synchrotron) light source in the world. Synchrotron facilities are essentially like normal microscopes but with much better resolution – hence a kind of super-microscope.

The life science industry forms the largest group of users from the private sector at the laboratory today. These companies, from pharmaceutica to biotechnology, typically require "the ability to study tiny molecules and crystals," explains Dr Katarina Norén, group manager of the Hard X-ray Division at the MAX IV Laboratory.

Shedding new light on old problems

The leading Danish pharmaceutical company, Novo Nordisk, has used MAX-lab to investigate particular chemicals involved in the production of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels in the body. Using the advanced instruments they were able to study the molecular structure of a protein used in a product that could stimulate insulin secretion. The findings are key to better treatment of diabetes. Astra Zeneca, a Swedish-British biopharmaceutical company, has also been a frequent user of the research facility.

But synchrotron light does not only resolve the intricate structure of materials. Having access to specialised instruments also helps companies streamline their production processes. The biotech company Spago Nanomedical created a contrast agent for more efficient MRI examinations. It was able to verify the composition and structure of the substance used in the agent using X-rays, and thereby save time and resources in its product development process.

Having a facility like MAX IV in Skåne is of great benefit to science research and also valuable for world-renown native companies based just a stone-throw from the laboratory. Global food processing and packaging solutions company Tetra Pak has used the laboratory to investigate new materials for its carton packages and engineering giant Alfa Laval, another Skåne native, also benefits from having access to the
existing laboratory.

Raising the science bar

MAX IV will take science to a whole new level on an international scale. The brilliance of the X-ray beams, in addition to their unique coherence, will open up new types of experiments that could not be realised anywhere else. 

"Researchers will be able to do more sophisticated experiments. Having a state-of-the-art facility, we expect to attract a higher percentage of international users, create an influx of international scientists, who, in turn, could create collaborations, hopefully, with our Swedish scientists, and raise the level of science as a whole," predicts Dr Andreas Lassesson of the MAX IV Laboratory.

The European Spallation Source

There will be a lot more development springing up in the vicinity of MAX IV in coming years. The new European Spallation Source (ESS) research centre just beside MAX IV is also an accelerator-based research centre, but one that produces neutron beams or 'light'. The facility will house 22 tailor-made instruments, a 537 meter long accelerator tunnel, and three separate experiment halls, all contributing to advancements in science, medicine, technology, and beyond. The ESS will also be a vital component of "the eco-system of research and development that Dr Lassesson describes as being present in the region. "The ESS will provide similar but complementary services and opportunities," adds Dr Andreas Lassesson.

Architectural vision for the courtyard area outside the ESS Target Station topped by the distinctive "Bird's Nest" roof structure. Credit: ESS/Team HLA