[LINK] The Australian Synchrotron

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Wed Mar 7 01:10:57 AEDT 2007

The Australian Synchrotron


"The Australian Synchrotron, nearing completion, has been funded by the 
largest ever national collaboration in Australian science history, with 
almost every university, state government and research organisation in 
Australia and New Zealand contributing. In its energy range and 
capabilities it will be comparable to any similar facility in the world.

Synchrotrons can be used for a myriad of research activities. Essentially 
they provide extremely accurate maps of minute particles.

The Australian Synchrotron accelerates electrons in a linear accelerator 
(or ‘linac’) to an energy of 10 Million electron volts and then boosts 
them to 3 Giga electron volts, where they are stored in vacuum vessels in 
a doughnut-shaped ‘storage ring’ almost the size of the Melbourne Cricket 
Ground playing surface in diameter. 

The electrons are travelling near light speed and are bent around a circle
using huge electromagnets. Every time they are bent, they ‘complain’ with 
showers of photons (light) across a broad spectrum – infra red to x-ray.

These energetic photons form narrow beams of light which are then 
directed down hollow tubes where researchers in many fields manipulate and
select the wavelength they want, and shine the light beams on 
experimental samples – thus generating extraordinarily detailed and 
accurate maps at the molecular and atomic level of the materials they are 
working with.

The experimenters call the photon delivery system “beamlines” and their 
experimental areas “hutches” — so called because the first such areas 
looked like rabbits hutches. These days they are much more sophisticated.

The computing hardware used on the Australian Synchrotron is a mixture of 
commercial off-the-shelf components, server class PC hardware and 
specialist data acquisition and signal conditioning hardware.

The software is based on an international collaboration called “EPICS” 
standing for Experimental Physics and Industrial Control Systems. 

Most synchrotron facilities use EPICS, and all those that do contribute 
to it – including the Australian synchrotron. It is a powerful 
collaboration in the spirit of both scientific research and the success 
of other collaborations such as the Linux operating system. 

The Australian Synchrotron also uses Linux in various forms for its real-
time data collection, its data storage and its operator interfaces. There 
are about 300 computers at the facility, ranging from embedded PCs with 
Debian Linux, server class machines running a real-time Linux, ARM 
processors running Linux and CENTOS and REDHAT Linux servers and 

Connectivity to AARNet, the GRID and remote research networks is 
currently being looked at, and research is also being performed into 
virtual beamlines to be used for remote collaboration and training 
purposes. <snip>

There are two sectors in which Australian Synchrotron team members work: 
the Accelerator systems and the Beamlines. They are all making extensive 
use of open source software in the production of the required software 
components, and by doing so have been able to produce the required amount 
of functionality in both record time and with smaller teams than has ever 
been achieved before — worldwide!

The Team has taken EPICS software, which has existed and evolved for many 
years, and applied it to modern hardware, operating systems and devices. 

This approach has meant that many older and more conventional signal 
processing techniques co-exist in harmony with newer techniques and 
are “held” together with a common code base and communications protocols.

Also, since the team members knew the software well – and being open 
source helped — they were able to guide the contractors’ staff, train 
together and deliver quality systems that integrated, not only at the 
plant level, but also at the source code level. 

In fact, one of the major achievements of the team is the ability to 
compile and release any version of source code for all systems in an 
automated fashion. This level of control and discipline over the software 
for such a complex machine is extremely unusual in the community and
bug-fixing unique it its class. It is one of the factors that has enabled 
the commissioning of the facility to move faster than any comparable 
facility in the world.

The team has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with the rest of the EPICS 
and synchrotron community. We regularly attend the technical conferences 
(both on-line and in person) and contribute all of the source code 
developed here back to the scientific community.

The team is made up of local engineers and scientists who have worked in 
a variety of large plants and laboratories – from water supply, 
electrical power, chemical plant, long range radar, defence, industrial 
research, railways, general IT and a host of infrastructure projects. 
There are 2 engineers with huge breadth and depth of experience and 
working on this project has been a career highlight for us all."

Cheers people
Stephen Loosley
Victoria, Australia

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