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New X-ray consortium formed

A team of researchers from MIT, IBM's Research Division and McGill University of Canada have signed an agreement to build and operate research facilities at the world's brightest X-ray source, the Advanced Photon Source (APS), being built at the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, IL.

University-industry partnership in this field was pioneered a decade ago by MIT and IBM researchers in their development and operation of beamlines at the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The Brookhaven-MIT-IBM consortium was established under the aegis of the Center for Materials Science and Engineering and was led by Professors Robert J. Birgeneau and J. David Litster of MIT and Drs. Paul M. Horn and G. Slade Cargill III of IBM. Most of the new X-ray facilities at the APS will follow the MIT-IBM model of university-industry cooperation.

The IBM-MIT-McGill facilities at the APS also represent the first formal international consortium in the new X-ray center. "Canada's involvement in this project is a reflection of the international cooperation needed in the scientific community to understand these problems of interest to us all," said Professor Mark Sutton of McGill University, who is heading up the Canadian contribution to the program.

"Scientific research at the APS will aid in the development and understanding of new materials that may lead to improved products such as magnetic disk drives, computer chips and computer displays," said Dr. Brian R. Stephenson of IBM. Dr. Stephenson is director of the collaborative research team, known as IMM-CAT.

"The APS," said associate director Professor Simon G.J. Mochrie of the MIT Physics Department, "will allow us to study materials in greater detail and to study faster physical and chemical processes than have previously been possible."

Argonne's $467 million APS is a circular accelerator two-thirds of a mile in circumference. Tightly focused beams of APS X-rays, one trillion times more brilliant than routine medical X-rays, will allow IMM-CAT to carry out a broad range of applied and basic research in materials science, physics and chemistry.

IMM-CAT will build a total of six experimental stations at two APS beamlines, capable of supporting four experiments at a time. The MIT portion of the IMM-CAT beamline construction will be funded primarily by the National Science Foundation. Like the current Brookhaven facility, the operation of these beam lines will be supported in part by the NSF through the Center for Materials Science and Engineering.

The IMM-CAT research will emphasize processes and phenomena, such as growth of thin films, that take place over time. Individual atoms settle from a vapor onto a surface or are attracted by electrical forces from a liquid solution to collect on a surface. Using APS X-rays, the researchers expect to explore thin-film growth on time scales of a few billionths of a second.

Research into the structure of thin films of polymers (long-chained molecules) can lead to the design of improved coatings, such as those used for lubricants in magnetic disk drives and for orienting liquid crystal films in flat-panel displays.

Members of IMM-CAT will also study interfaces where layers of magnetic materials meet. This can lead to improved magnetic heads for reading data on magnetic disks used for information storage.

MIT's research by Professors Thomas J. Greytak, Mochrie, Birgeneau and Litster will exploit the high intensity of the APS x-ray beams to make possible a new generation of experiments studying the dynamics of materials at very short length scales.

Professor Marc Kastner, director of the Center for Materials Science and Engineering, commented, "This consortium represents an ideal model for cooperation in basic and applied materials research between a leading university such as MIT and a forefront technology-based American industry such as IBM."

A version of this article appeared in the June 15, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 36).

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