There's $20 million in the budget for the Australian Synchrotron - here's an explanation of what it is

The Australian Synchrotron. Photo: ansto.gov.au

The federal budget papers reveal the Australian Synchrotron is getting $20.5 million from the government, but no one is really sure what the organisation even is.

It’s not an Olympic swimming team training pool, but rather one of the most advanced scientific research facilities in the world.

In layman’s terms, it uses electrons accelerated to the close to the speed of light to conduct groundbreaking studies across a range of industries, especially medicine, where it’s looking for new treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis and malaria. The electrons are deflected through magnetic fields and create extremely bright light known as the “beamline”.

A range of disciplines, from agriculture to minerals exploration, environmental science, engineering and forensics also use the facility.

The synchrotron is about the size of a football field and opened in 2007 after Australian scientists lobbied to Howard government for it because they were forced to go overseas to conduct their research. The Victorian government stepped in with $157 million to build it next to Monash University in Clayton.

Biomedicine has used it to create new diagnostic, imaging and therapeutic techniques, defence to study of the sub-atomic nature of materials, sensors and heavy metals.

Food technology is using it to analyse the composition of ingredients, assessing the effectiveness of food processes and determining the nutritional impact of foods in the body. Manufacturing is investigating the structure and characterisation of a range of materials; and analysing stresses in engineered components – the list goes on.

So what is the funding being used for? Basically to secure ongoing operations.

The government will provide $20.5 million in 2016-17 to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to meet part of the $30 million cost of operating the Australian Synchrotron.

The remaining operating costs will be met through contributions from the Victorian Government and the New Zealand Synchrotron Group Ltd.

“The Synchrotron demonstrates some of the very best in applied science – it is a facility available to researchers so they can improve our lives,” said an ANSTO spokesperson.

“Its outputs include devising higher yield crops, new medicines, better manufacturing methods and improvements for the minerals industry, and this funding ensures this important work will continue.

“This is landmark national infrastructure that supports more than 4,000 researcher visits and more than 900 experiments from across Australian industry and academia each year.”

The most recent discovery to be made using the Australian Synchrotron was by researchers from St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research who found important new details of the structure of a drug currently in advanced clinical trials to combat Alzheimer’s disease. Read more on that here.

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