Energy Secretary Granholm visits SLAC Lab, celebrates advancements in tech for clean energy

The US Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited the SLAC National Accelerator Lab in Menlo Park on Thursday during her visit to the Bay Area this week. 

The Stanford-run facility is home to the X-Ray laser that provides the platform for scientists to make technological advancements in medicine, computers, and clean energy. 

It’s a $1.1 billion project that took about 10 years to complete. On Thursday, the SLAC Lab was celebrating the "first light" of the world’s most powerful laser technology on earth, allowing users to perform new experiments.

Secretary Granholm spent the day meeting the bright minds – scientists, engineers, and technicians – that work at the labs. 

The new X-ray laser, called Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS-II), gives researchers unprecedented views of the atomic world. The LCLS-II produces up to a million X-ray flashes per second, or 8,000 times more than its predecessor. LCLS-II will transform the ability of scientists to explore atomic-scale, ultrafast phenomena that are key to a broad range of applications, from quantum materials to clean energy technologies and medicine.  

"It’s basically a super microscope," said Mike Dunne, Director of the LCLS. "It lets us look at the world at the level of atoms and molecules and how energy flows in those molecules."

The laser operates by taking snapshots, like a molecular movie, to see how atoms move and behave at the most basic level.

"This is a way of freeze framing what’s going on in our bodies or in our technologies," said Dunne.

The new laser is an upgrade from the one built in 2009, working with an accelerator 30-feet underground, two miles long.

"A transformation of the world of X-ray science," said Dunne. "It helps us understand how can we change our planet in terms of the sustainability of materials we dig out of the ground or the energy sources that power everyday lives."

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It can be used for experiments from researching pharmaceutical drugs and advancing medicine to developing solar energy and clean fuel.

"All of the processes that develop those technologies can come through here and make them better more efficient," said Secretary Granholm.

"It brings scientists from all around the world coming to solve their problems to advance our energy objectives," said SLAC Lab Director John Sarrao. "We’re actually right away getting users on the accelerator, taking data, making experiments, improving the machine as we go."

Secretary Granholm said this technology moves the needle forward as the Biden administration strives for 100% clean electricity by 2035. 

"California should feel really proud that this facility is here, because California has such bold goals on climate change," said Secretary Granholm.

The laser is free for scientists and researchers to use. Every 6 months, organizations submit an application detailing their research and are vetted and peer reviewed. Dunne said 1 in 5 research groups who apply are granted time to perform experiments at the labs.