Brookhaven Labs: A Celebration


All of the text and most of the graphics presented in this post are taken directly from the Brookhaven web pages. Brookhaven has a storied past and a vitality for the future. This post is in no way exhaustive. I urge any reader to visit the web site and just go exploring to learn more about Brookhaven.

Established in 1947 on Long Island, Upton, New York, Brookhaven is a multi-program national laboratory operated by Brookhaven Science Associates for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Seven Nobel Prizes have been awarded for discoveries made at the Lab.
Brookhaven has a staff of approximately 3,000 scientists, engineers, technicians and support staff and over 4,000 guest researchers annually.
Brookhaven National Laboratory’s role for the DOE is to produce excellent science and advanced technology with the cooperation, support, and appropriate involvement of our scientific and local communities. The fundamental elements of the Laboratory’s role in support of the four DOE strategic missions are the following:
• To conceive, design, construct, and operate complex, leading edge, user-oriented facilities in response to the needs of the DOE and the international community of users.
• To carry out basic and applied research in long-term, high-risk programs at the frontier of science.
• To develop advanced technologies that address national needs and to transfer them to other organizations and to the commercial sector.
• To disseminate technical knowledge, to educate new generations of scientists and engineers, to maintain technical capabilities in the nation’s workforce, and to encourage scientific awareness in the general public.

Tour Brookhaven’s History

Brookhaven National Laboratory has a history of outstanding scientific achievement that spans more than five decades. The Laboratory’s research staff has pioneered the fields of nuclear technology, high energy physics, medicine and more. Brookhaven has been home to three research reactors, numerous one-of-a-kind particle accelerators, and other amazing research machines. This web-based history of Brookhaven is designed to be browsed in any order you choose.

The Founding of Brookhaven, a Laboratory for Peacetime Research

In 1946, representatives from nine major eastern universities — Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, University of Rochester, and Yale — formed a nonprofit corporation to establish a new nuclear-science facility, and they chose a surplus army base “way out on Long Island” as the site. Thus, Brookhaven National Laboratory was born. On March 21, 1947, the U.S. War Department transferred the site of Camp Upton on Long Island to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which was the federal agency that oversaw the founding of Brookhaven National Laboratory and was a predecessor to the present U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The AEC provided the initial funding for Brookhaven’s research into the peaceful uses of the atom, with the goal of improving public well-being.

Brookhaven Lab was conceived to promote basic research in the physical, chemical, biological and engineering aspects of the atomic sciences. An equally important concept was the establishment of a national laboratory in the Northeast to design, construct and operate large scientific machines that individual institutions could not afford to develop on their own. The Laboratory was also to resemble a university to the greatest extent possible.

Today, Brookhaven Lab is one of ten national laboratories under DOE’s Office of Science, which provides the majority of the Laboratory’s research dollars and direction. Founded in 1977 as the 12th cabinet-level department, DOE oversees much of the science research in this country through its Office of Science.

Research Departments and Divisions

Biology Department

Brookhaven’s Biology Department has an extraordinary combination of strengths in molecular genetics, structural biology, genomics, enzymology, and biotechnology. Department researchers study a diverse set of problems in plant, microbial, and mammalian biology. Current areas of investigation include DNA damage recognition and repair, plant and microbial genomics and proteomics, enzyme engineering, the regulation of gene expression, and the exploration of complex biological structures. See the historic achievements of this department.

Center for Functional Nanomaterials

The Brookhaven National Laboratory Center for Functional Nanomaterials will provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate and study nanoscale materials. Functional materials are those which exhibit a predetermined chemical or physical response to external stimuli. The Center’s focus is to achieve a basic understanding of how these materials respond when in nanoscale form. Nanomaterials–typically on the scale of billionths of a meter–offer different chemical and physical properties than bulk materials, and have the potential to form the basis of new technologies.

Chemistry Department

The Chemistry Department focuses on PET studies of the human brain, heterogeneous and homogeneous catalysis, studies of gas phase dynamics of reactive species, solar photoconversion and other chemistries.

Collider-Accelerator Department

The Collider-Accelerator Department includes the staff who work to improve the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron, and the Tandem Van de Graaff accelerators, and the physicists who use these tools in their research. See the historic achievements of this department.


Condensed Matter Physics & Materials Science Department

Major efforts of this department include the investigation of properties of superconducting oxides; methods of superconductor characterization and fabrication; the properties of advanced permanent-magnet materials; the synthesis of materials for advanced battery and fuel-cell applications; the investigation of mechanisms of metal passivation and localized corrosion; development and investigation of the properties of cementitious and glassy materials; and advanced methods of electron microscopy to characterize the nanoscale structure of advanced materials.

Energy Sciences & Technology Department

The Energy Sciences & Technology Department conducts basic and applied science, research and development, and technology implementation and deployment to support the DOE objectives of assuring adequate supplies of clean/affordable energy, reducing U.S. vulnerability to supply disruptions, advancing alternative and renewable energy technologies, and increasing energy choices, maintaining U.S. leadership in energy supply and use; and educating new generations of scientists.

Medical Department

BNL physicians work with chemists in the Center for Imaging & Neurosciences to explore the human brain using medical imaging techniques based on medical radioisotopes. Other research projects in the Medical Department are aimed at developing new nuclear medicine treatments and diagnostic agents, producing medical isotopes for clinical use, and understanding and treating cancer and heart disease.

National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) Department

The NSLS provides one of the world’s brightest continuous sources of x-ray and UV radiation for scientific research. This light is a beacon for more than 2,300 scientists from BNL, academia and industry annually, who use it to shed light on everything from the structure of molecules to microchips.

AP-PRT is a facility dedicated to study x-ray scattering and diffraction of polymers at Beamline X27C at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL).

Nonproliferation & National Security

The mission of The Nonproliferation and National Security Department is to carry out research and development, provide technical support, and build prototype systems in order to further U.S. Government initiatives and policies in Nuclear materials safeguards and security, Arms control treaty verification, Nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Material Protection Control and Accountability initiatives for nuclear materials in Russia and the NIS, and related national security areas.

Physics Department

BNL physicists pursue experimental and theoretical discoveries in high-energy, nuclear and solid-state physics, and help design and build many of the world’s foremost physics facilities, both at Brookhaven and around the globe.

Instrumentation Division

The Division develops state-of-the-art instrumentation required for experimental research programs at BNL and maintains the expertise and facilities in specialized high technology areas essential for this work. Major areas of effort include semiconductor, gas, and cryogenic detectors, microelectronics, data acquisition hardware, micro and nano-fabrication, optical metrology, and laser and electro-optics. The Division also engages in collaborative research and technology transfer with selected industrial partners.

Superconducting Magnet Division

The BNL Superconducting Magnet Division constructs magnets for use in particle accelerators such as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. Superconducting magnets which must be cooled to temperatures near absolute zero produce stronger magnetic fields and consume less energy than conventional copper wire electromagnets. Building on the magnet designs and construction methods developed for RHIC, this Division is building magnets for use in Europe’s Large Hadron Collider and HERA accelerators.

GSI001 cold mass, partly disassembled March 14, 2005

Environmental Sciences Department

Explores our natural environment, and turns scientific ideas into practical applications.

Research Centers

Center for Functional Nanomaterials

This Center will provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate and study nanoscale materials. The Center’s focus is to achieve a basic understanding of how these materials respond when in nanoscale form. Nanomaterials offer different chemical and physical properties than bulk materials, and have the potential to form the basis of new technologies.

RIKEN BNL Research Center

This Center, established by the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, Japan (RIKEN) at Brookhaven National Laboratory, focuses on the physics program of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, hard Quantum Chromodynamic (QCD) / spin physics, lattice QCD and relativistic heavy ion physics.

Computational Science Center

The purpose of the CSC is to provide computational science capabilities through the use of powerful, state-of-the-art computers for researchers in biology, chemistry, physics, applied mathematics, medicine, and nanoscience Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the Center features Large Linux clusters and two QCDOC computers with with 12,288 processors each.

Center for Radiation Chemistry Research

This Center exploits pulse radiolysis techniques to study chemical reactions and other phenomena by subjecting samples to pulses of high-energy electrons. The reactions are followed by various methods of time-resolved spectroscopy and other detection techniques. The Center includes the new picosecond Laser-Electron Accelerator Facility, a 2 MeV Van de Graaff accelerator, and a cobalt-60 source.

National Nuclear Data Center

This Center provides information services in the fields of low and medium energy nuclear physics to users in the United States and Canada. In particular, the Center can provide information on neutron, charged-particle, and photonuclear reactions, nuclear structure, and decay data.
Last Modified: July 21, 2009

Brookhaven Discoveries

Here are just a few of the many discoveries, developments, inventions and innovations that Brookhaven scientists have made in the last 50 years.
Top Ten Scientific Discoveries
• Seven Nobel Prizes, five in physics and two in chemistry
• Courant-Snyder strong focusing principle, critical to the design of all modern particle accelerators
• The Green-Chasman lattice, a design for electron storage rings that was first implemented at Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source and since adopted by many of the world’s synchrotron radiation facilities
• Theories and experiments to determine the mechanisms underlying high-temperature superconductors
• Study of the effects of radiation on biological systems, important to cancer treatment and prevention and to human space travel
• A way to produce vast quantities of gene products, using a virus known as T7
• Development of fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose, or FDG-18, now used in nearly every clinical positron emission tomography scan done in hospitals around the world
• Important studies of the brain, including those uncovering the roots of psychiatric disorders, brain metabolism and drug addiction
• Large-scale studies of the effect of increased carbon dioxide on ecosystems
• At Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, discovery of a perfect liquid – a type of matter thought by scientists to have existed microseconds after the Big Bang.

Biomedical Sciences

Advances in nuclear medicine, including:
• The development of technetium-99m, now used to diagnose heart disease and other ailments in over 11 million Americans each year. BNL researchers have also developed a simple-to-use kit to allow doctors to easily label blood with Tc-99m; this kit is used over 200,000 times a year.
• The development of thallium-201, now used in hundreds of thousands of heart stress-tests each year.
• The development of tin-117m, a promising agent for easing the pain of bone cancer without sedation.
Discoveries to aid pharmaceutical design, including:
• Structural studies of the Lyme disease protein used in a new, effective vaccine
• Development of a technique to study viral and bacterial proteins while they are embedded in the cellular membrane.
• X-ray and neutron scattering facilities that have made possible countless studies of molecular structures important to disease.
• Development of an effective database to store structural information about biomolecules that can be accessed by researchers in academia and industry to “rationally” design pharmaceuticals.
Development of novel medical therapies and concepts, including:
• Boron neutron capture therapy, currently showing promise for the treatment of brain tumors in a clinical trial.
• Use of L-dopa for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease (still the gold standard for treatment)
• X-ray angiography for non-invasive heart imaging
• Link between salt and hypertension
• Studies on radiation-induced malignancies and DNA repair

Important tools for biomedical research, including:

• A way to produce vast quantities of gene products, using a virus known as T7
• Tritiated thymidine, a way to tag molecules with short-lived radioactivity for easier examination
• Methods for attaching heavy metal atoms to important molecules, such as antibodies, for easier imaging using electron microscopes
• Techniques for sequencing large segments of DNA rapidly
• Method for synthesizing insulin, paving the way for production of insulin by recombinant DNA

Advances in medical imaging, and the use of imaging in research, including:

• Development of some of the first agents for positron emission tomography scanning; one BNL-developed agent, 18-FDG, is now used in nearly every clinical PET scan done in hospitals around the world
• Important studies of the brain, including the roots of drug addiction (e.g. first image of cocaine in the brain, discovery of enzyme deficit in smokers’ brains), psychiatric disorders, and brain metabolism

Environmental Sciences

• Response of plants and trees to radiation exposure
• Metal hydrides for better hydrogen storage in fuel cells
• Building and studying of demonstration houses with alternative-energy and energy-saving features
• Invention of better, cleaner, more efficient oil burners and devices to aid clean and efficient oil burning
• Development of chemically inert tracers and detectors to track the environmental impact of power plants
• Better, safer, more convenient natural gas storage options for alternative-fuel vehicles
• Facilities that allow studies of environmental technologies and phenomena: polymers used to clean up oil spills, examination of sandstone porosity for more efficient oil-field exploration, and the effect of cosmic radiation on tissue
• Large-scale studies of the effect of increased carbon dioxide on ecosystems
• Oceanographic studies of plankton populations to gauge ocean health and climate change potential; also research into the cause of mysterious “brown tide” algae blooms
• Harnessing natural bacteria to clean up environmental pollution and purify crude oil
• Studies of air pollution, including smog and particulates
• Computer models of atmospheric radiation (important for climate change), groundwater movement, and energy use impact in developing nations
• New techniques for encapsulating hazardous waste for storage and disposal, including glass, plastic and concrete

Technology & Energy

Advanced technology basic research and development, including:

• Basic research on superconductors for better communications technology
• Advanced computer chip design
• Better batteries using advanced electrolyte materials
• Magnetically levitated trains
• Advanced coatings for corrosion prevention
• Polymer composite materials for construction and road repair
• Facility for testing the resistance of satellite computer circuits to cosmic ray damage
• Polyplanar video display screen
• World’s first video game

Nuclear safety achievements, including:

• Assistance to former Soviet states for safeguarding of nuclear materials
• Reactor safety analysis, including safety systems and human error
• Assistance to former Soviet states for reactor safety
• Important early research on reactor physics that led to development of light-water reactors

Top Ten Consumer-Oriented Discoveries

• Technetium-99m, the leading radiotracer used in the diagnosis of heart disease and other ailments in millions of people each year
• Synthetic insulin
• Thallium-201, used in heart stress tests
• Use of L-dopa to treat Parkinson’s disease
• Link between salt and hypertension
• Magnetically levitated trains
• Environmentally cleaner, more efficient oil burners and devices to aid clean and efficient oil-burning
• Advanced coatings for corrosion prevention
• Advanced computer chip design
• World’s first video game?

Physical Sciences

Discoveries that shaped our understanding of the atom and the universe, including:

• Precise measurement of the anomalous magnetic moment of the muon, or “muon g-2”. The value of muon g-2 is a very sensitive test of the validity of the Standard Model of particle physics.
• First evidence for the exotic meson, a new breed of subatomic particle whose existence helps validate the central theory of modern physics, called the standard model.
• Detection of a rare kaon decay, thought to happen only once or twice in every 10 billion decays and perhaps an indicator of new phenomena that cannot be explained by the Standard Model.
• Pioneering solar neutrino studies that sought an answer to the mystery of the “missing” neutrinos from our solar system’s sun, and neutrino bursts from supernovae. BNL researcher Raymond Davis Jr.’s work in this area led to a Nobel Prize in 2002.
• Discovery of the muon neutrino, which opened a new field of study and which won the Nobel Prize in 1988.
• Discovery of CP violation, which showed a flaw in the belief that the universe is symmetrical, and which won the Nobel Prize in 1980.
• Co-discovery of the J/psi particle, which won the Nobel Prize in 1976
• Theoretical work on parity violation, based on data from BNL’s Cosmotron, which won the Nobel Prize in 1957
• First examples of three dynamical symmetries in atomic nuclei, which opened up a new approach to studying the structure of the atomic nucleus.
• First application of computing to study systems with many degrees of freedom, for studies of radiation damage to crystal structures and studies of magnetism.
• Development of Monte Carlo methods for exploring the interaction of atoms and particles, and other systems with many variables.
• First direct evidence for the existence of “glueballs”
• Discovery of the K meson and the first vector meson.
• Discovery of the Omega-minus particle in 1964.
• Discovery of the charmed baryon particle in 1975.
• Discovery of the neutral and negative sigma baryons.
• Experimental confirmation of the theory of associated production of strange particles.
• Discovery of the phi vector meson
• Discovery of the the antiparticles anti-Xi-minus and anti-Xi-zero
• At Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, discovery of a perfect liquid – a type of matter thought by scientists to have existed microseconds after the Big Bang.
Important contributions to the development of accelerator technology for worldwide use in physics and other fields, including:
• The Courant – Snyder strong focusing principle, crucial to the existence of the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron, and all modern circular accelerators.
• The Green – Chasman lattice that optimizes photon source parameters, first implemented at the
• National Synchrotron Light Source and since adopted by many of the world’s state-of-the-art synchrotron radiation facilities.
• The Palmer two-in-one magnet design has been chosen for the Large Hadron Collider, now under construction at CERN
• The laser-photocathode RF gun developed at the Accelerator Test Facility, which has become a world-wide standard of high-brightness electron guns.

Work that helped humankind understand and exploit the properties of existing and new solid materials, including:

• Discovery of a new class of materials, called colossal magnetoresistive materials, that exhibit dramatic changes in electrical resistance when exposed to a magnetic field.
• Theories and experiments to determine the mechanisms underlying high-temperature superconductors
• Techniques for studying magnetism with X-rays and neutrons
• Studies of metal hydrides and other organometallic compounds for various industrial uses, including storage of hydrogen gas for alternative-fuel vehicles
• Structural studies of materials under extreme conditions
• Pioneering work using X-rays and neutrons to study biological specimens, leading to the modern science of structural biology

Important contributions to chemistry research, including:

• Surface studies on metallic layers, adhesives, and more
• Studies of chemical reactions using super-fast lasers
• Studies of hydrogen bonding in biological molecules
• Development of techniques for radiodating of art and artifacts using neutron activation

Understanding of and uses for radiation, including:

• Development of early irradiation facilities for food safety, plant breeding, and medical supply sterilization
• Testing of the spaceworthiness of satellite and spacecraft parts with heavy ions produced in BNL accelerators
• Studies of the effect of radiation on biologial systems important to manned space travel, and to cancer treatment and prevention
• Measurement of radiation sensitivity and damage in metals, crystals, and living plant and animal tissue
• Measurements of wear in engine parts, which led to the development of multi-grade motor oils such as 10W-30
• Development of radionuclides for the life sciences and medicine

Nobel Prizes

Brookhaven National Laboratory is home to world-class research facilities and scientific departments which attract resident and visiting scientists in many fields. This outstanding mix of machine- and mind-power has on seven occasions produced research deemed worthy of the greatest honor in science: the Nobel Prize.

2009 Steitz, Ramakrishnan
2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, a former employee in Brookhaven’s biology department, and a long-time user of Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), and Thomas A. Steitz of Yale University, also a long-time NSLS user, shared the prize with Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science for studying the structure and function of the ribosome.

2003 Roderick MacKinnon
Roderick MacKinnon, M.D., a visiting researcher at Brookhaven National Laboratory, won one half of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work explaining how a class of proteins helps to generate nerve impulses — the electrical activity that underlies all movement, sensation, and perhaps even thought.

2002 Raymond Davis Jr.
Raymond Davis Jr., a chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for detecting solar neutrinos, ghostlike particles produced in the nuclear reactions that power the sun. Davis shared the prize with Masatoshi Koshiba of Japan, and Riccardo Giacconi of the U.S.

1988 Lederman,Schwartz,Steinberger
Leon Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger received the 1988 Physics prize for their 1962 discovery of the muon-neutrino. At the time, only the electron-neutrino was known. Using Brookhaven’s Alternating Gradient Synchrotron, they detected a new type of the ghostlike particles that pass through everything.

1980 Fitch and Cronin
The 1980 physics Nobel was awarded to James W. Cronin and Val L. Fitch, both then of Princeton University, whose 1963 experiment at Brookhaven’s Alternating Gradient Synchrotron discovered a flaw in physics’ central belief that the universe is symmetrical. They discovered the phenomenon known as “CP violation”.

1976 Samuel C. C. Ting
The 1976 Nobel Prize in physics was shared by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher who used Brookhaven’s Alternating Gradient Synchrotron to discover a new particle and confirm the existence of the charmed quark. Samuel C.C. Ting was credited for finding what he called the “J” particle, the same particle as the “psi” found at nearly the same time by Burton Richter.

1957 C.N Yang, T.D. Lee
In 1957, T. D. Lee, of Columbia University, and C. N. Yang, then of Brookhaven, interpreted results of particle decay experiments at Brookhaven’s Cosmotron particle accelerator. They discovered particles which had the same masses, lifetimes and scattering behaviors, but which decayed differently, proving that the fundamental and supposedly absolute law of parity conservation can be violated.