Synchrotron light is the electromagnetic radiation emitted when electrons, moving at velocities close to the speed of light, are forced to change direction under the action of a magnetic field.

The electromagnetic radiation is emitted in a narrow cone in the forward direction, at a tangent to the electron's orbit.

Synchrotron light is unique in its intensity and brilliance and it can be generated across the range of the electromagnetic spectrum: from infrared to x-rays.

The electromagnetic spectrum, showing the range of the Australian Synchrotron

Properties of synchrotron light

Synchrotron light has a number of unique properties. These include:

  • High brightness: synchrotron light is extremely intense (hundreds of thousands of times more intense than that from conventional x-ray tubes) and highly collimated.

  • Wide energy spectrum: synchrotron light is emitted with energies ranging from infrared light to hard x-rays.

  • Tunable: it is possible to obtain an intense beam of any selected wavelength.

  • Highly polarised: the synchrotron emits highly polarised radiation, which can be linear, circular or elliptical.

  • Emitted in very short pulses: pulses emitted are typically less than a nano-second (a billionth of a second), enabling time-resolved studies.