28 September 2016

Funding to add x-rays to MagLab's research mix

A new x-ray instrument will become the strongest of its kind thanks to the power of the MagLab’s flagship split helix magnet.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With a new $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, a team of researchers led by National MagLab physicist Theo Siegrist will build the world’s strongest x-ray diffraction tool available in high magnetic fields. The goal: Learn more about the position and arrangements of atoms in superconductors and other complex materials.

Theo SiegristTheo Siegrist.

Currently, x-ray diffraction is only available up to 15 tesla, making this new instrument almost 70 percent stronger than what has been available for x-ray studies. (A tesla is a measurement of the strength of a magnetic field; a junkyard magnet that can pick up a car is about 1 tesla.)

X-rays are a type of wave on the electromagnetic spectrum that can pass through materials. Researchers channel x-rays using a tool called an x-ray diffractometer to see how they interact with crystals. After coming in contact with the crystal, the x-rays create a unique transmission and reflection pattern that acts as a sort of fingerprint, telling researchers important information about the structure, composition and physical properties of the material.

X-ray diffraction has been around for decades, but what’s unique about this grant is that it combines the capability of an x-ray diffractometer with one of the world’s most unique magnets to understand even more about the three-dimensional structure of crystalline materials as they change in high magnetic fields in real time.

"Essentially, we are using x-rays as a probe to measure changes in the crystal lattice that can only be created in high fields," said Siegrist, a professor in chemical engineering at the Florida A&M University/Florida State University College of Engineering. "Magnetic fields can create interesting phase transitions and order in materials that we will be able to study in a whole new way with this tool."

The new x-ray diffractometer will be built into the MagLab’s 25 tesla split helix magnet, an instrument that features four large openings so that scientists can channel x-rays on the material they are studying while simultaneously maintaining a high magnetic field.

The x-ray diffractometer will be built by a team of MagLab scientists, including Julia Smith, Alexey Kovalev and Alexey Suslov. When completed, the one-of-a-kind instrument will become available for scientists around the world to use for free through a competitive proposal process.

Story by Kristin Roberts. Photos by Stephen Bilenky.


The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet facility. Located at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the interdisciplinary National MagLab hosts scientists from around the world to perform basic research in high magnetic fields, advancing our understanding of materials, energy and life. The lab is funded by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1157490) and the state of Florida. For more information, visit us online at nationalmaglab.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at NationalMagLab.