The making of the Australian Synchrotron

As synchrotron science revolutionised experimental techniques in the UK, Europe and the USA in the late 1970s, Australia’s science leaders saw the potential for a national light source to spur scientific investigation and industrial innovation in this country. In 1989 the Australian Academy of Science first proposed that a national synchrotron facility be made available for Australia.

For 16 years Australian scientists used overseas synchrotrons for groundbreaking research, but demand for beamtime far outstripped supply and it was clear that for Australia to remain internationally competitive, Australian researchers needed much easier access to a light source closer to home.

In 1993 the Australian Science and Technology Council (ASTEC) recommended Australia build its own synchrotron. Two years later, funding was granted for a feasibility study into an Australian Synchrotron and the study was completed in 1997.

In 1999 a detailed proposal was submitted to the Federal Government and this became the basis for the Australian Synchrotron.

In June 2001 the Victorian Government announced its decision to build a national synchrotron facility on land adjacent to Monash University. The Victorian Government committed to funding the synchrotron machine and building to house the facility. Beamline capital funding came from partners such as research institutions and state governments. State agencies were given carriage of the task of building a national partnership and constructing the most significant addition to Australia’s research and development infrastructure in decades.

In 2002 the National Science Advisory Committee (NSAC), comprising experienced synchrotron users in Australia and New Zealand and two international advisory committees – the International Science Advisory Committee (ISAC) and the International Machine Advisory Committee (IMAC) – were established to help guide design and development of Australia’s first synchrotron light source.

After extensive site preparation, construction of the Australian Synchrotron began in 2003. The project was scheduled to take five years to complete.

In January 2004 the then Minister for Innovation and Acting Premier, The Honourable John Brumby, announced the University of Melbourne, Monash University, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and CSIRO would each provide $5 million towards nine initial beamlines planned for the Australian Synchrotron project. These nine beamlines had been chosen through a rigorous consultation process and were planned to cater for current and emerging demand for synchrotron techniques Australia-wide. Later in 2004 New Zealand announced it would join the beamline funding partnership.

In 2005 the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI) joined the beamline funding partnership, and Queensland became the first Australian state to join the beamline partnership, in what was now emerging as a new collaborative capital funding model for major national science facilities.

The first beamline contract was awarded in October 2005 to supply a high-throughput protein crystallography beamline that would help develop new treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis and malaria.

In June 2006 the Australian Synchrotron project reached a major milestone with engineers and scientists achieving ‘first light’, confirming that the machine was working as planned.

Contracts to supply soft x-ray and infrared beamlines for the Australian Synchrotron were signed, and by the end of 2006 funding commitments for the initial nine beam¬lines had reached $50 million after consortia from New South Wales, Western Australian and South Australian/La Trobe University joined the partnership. The Com¬monwealth Government also came on board with a $14 million contribution from National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy funds, underlining a major shift towards greater collaboration to meet national research requirements.

Experiments began in 2007

Experiments at the synchrotron began in April 2007 to prepare for the official opening in July.
By the end of June the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments finalised an agreement under which each would provide $50 million in operating funds, to a total of $100 million for the period to 2011-12. The New Zealand Government has also committed to contribute operating funds.

Australian Synchrotron operations commenced in July 2007 with five beamlines in operation; two with a full user programme and three with expert users. A further four beamlines were under construction to be commissioned progressively in 2008.

The Australian Synchrotron – for all Australians and open to international synchrotron scientists

On 31 July 2007, the Premier of Victoria, and the then Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, officially opened the Australian Synchrotron. Mr Brumby emphasised that although the Victorian Government had provided $157 million of the $221 million in capital dedicated to building it, the Australian Synchrotron was not just for Victoria but for all Australians and open to international synchrotron scientists.

This crucial platform for national and international science was delivered on time and on budget, a testament to the foresight, ingenuity and expertise of all the many individuals and groups who had planned and built this leading light source.

The Australian Synchrotron is now serving the needs of all its partners and the wider research community and providing a platform for leading edge research and development across the whole spectrum, from medicine to manufacturing.