Today at Berkeley Lab

Message From Director: Update on ALS-U

In my December column, I mentioned that we had received first-stage approval for the Advanced Light Source Upgrade project, ALS-U. I’d like to take some time now to talk about why ALS-U is the highest priority project of the Lab, and what that means.

One of Berkeley Lab’s national user facilities, the ALS is part of the DOE’s network of synchrotron light sources, and has been a global leader in soft x-ray science for two decades. The ALS facility was built from 1988 to 1993 on the site of E.O. Lawrence’s 184-inch cyclotron, the accelerator he started building at the time of his 1939 Nobel Prize in Physics. Its 40 beamlines provide over 2,300 scientists annually with the x-ray source and advanced instrumentation they need to advance their understanding of chemical processes and new materials. The number of publications describing ALS results has grown linearly since first operation of the facility, and is now nearly 1,000 per year.

With an average annual operating budget of $60 million, the ALS is enormously important to the Lab. The single most important way we connect with the national research enterprise is through our five user facilities, and we take great pride in the unique set of capabilities they represent. The value of ALS to the scientific community is enhanced by its collaborations with NERSC and the Molecular Foundry.

But the ALS cannot maintain its global reputation without significant enhancements, and in 2016, Lab leadership proposed to the DOE that they take advantage of new accelerator technologies that would allow the ALS to produce coherent beams up to 1,000 brighter than are now possible. The upgraded facility will enable new explorations of chemical reactions, battery performance, biological processes and exotic materials. At the heart of the upgrade is an improved electron storage ring that will use powerful, compact magnets arranged in a so-called multibend achromat lattice. For more about this, please visit

This project is the largest undertaken at the Lab in decades. It draws on talent from several divisions, including the ALS, ATAP, Engineering, and Facilities. Roger Falcone will continue to direct the ALS’s scientific program and operations, and I have appointed Dave Robin as the ALS-U project’s permanent director. Dave will report directly to me — you will see this reporting relationship reflected on the Lab’s new organization chart.

ALS-U continues the Lab’s long legacy of building and operating particle accelerators. The soft x-ray capabilities made possible by this upgrade will surpass those at any storage-ring-based light source, either operating or planned, anywhere in the world. This is a tremendously exciting time for the Lab; please join me in supporting Dave, Roger, and all the people at the Lab developing the upgraded ALS facility that will produce breakthrough science for another 25 years.