ITHACA, N.Y. — More than 1,200 users bring their projects to Cornell’s High Energy Synchrotron Source each year, but for every research proposal that is accepted, another is denied due to a lack of available X-ray beamtime. On Monday, CHESS announced a $54 million award from the National Science Foundation that will support more projects than ever before at the particle accelerator.

The cooperative agreement with NSF will expand the facility’s research capacity and encourage new partnerships with federal labs, universities and industry over the next five years. Under the banner of the new Center for High Energy X-ray Sciences (CHEXS), the funds will add four X-ray beamlines and bring new staff on board to make research accessible to scientists who are not X-ray experts.

The high-energy X-ray beams that CHESS provides are used to study materials at the macroscopic level, enabling research on a broad range of topics. For instance, materials scientists have used the facility to develop more efficient batteries, while archeologists have used it to analyze Native American trade routes. The CHEXS beamlines will target four different research areas geared toward scientists across disciplines and industries, including quantum physics and precision manufacturing.

“By supporting CHEXS, NSF is furthering new, unique, experimental capabilities for emerging research in materials, engineering and biology,” Guebre X. Tessema, NSF materials research program director, said in a media release.

Related: X-Ray Vision: Cornell looks to Southern Tier’s future with synchrotron upgrades

The expansion is made possible, in part, by a major upgrade that was completed at the facility, CHESS-U. The upgrade, which was funded with $15 million from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative, increased the power of CHESS’s X-ray beams and improved the facility’s storage ring. When the facility comes back online in October after its year-long closure, it will be a “third-generation light source,” meaning it will use state-of-the-art technology to achieve high brilliance.

“CHESS is a world leader in developing innovative tools and techniques that are highly sought by other global laboratories, universities and research organizations,” said Emmanuel Giannelis, vice provost for research at Cornell. “The support from the NSF will make possible even more diverse research and it will promote science advances at Cornell and across the nation.”

Related: Cornell awarded $15 million to upgrade high-tech research facility, boosting regional business

Ithaca’s representatives in Washington — Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Republican Rep. Tom Reed — all voiced their support for the next stage in CHESS’s partnership with the NSF.

“CHESS is a unique training ground for the scientific workforce we need to keep the U.S. competitive, and is part of the lifeblood of our scientific community, enabling researchers to make advancements in everything from clean energy technologies, to stronger more resilient infrastructure,” Schumer said. “I have been proud to fight and deliver funding to support CHESS and the NSF, and will continue to do so.”

Gillibrand and Reed both said the federal funds would boost the local economy by advancing industry research and development.

NSF has supported CHESS since it opened in 1978 and has been the user facility’s sole funder until now. While the award announced this week extends the agency’s support, it also marks a shift in CHESS’s operations. Going forward, CHESS will accept funding from partners that use the laboratory to conduct research.

Joel Brock, CHESS director and professor of applied and engineering physics, said NSF’s support will help secure funding from other partners and will allow CHESS to spread resources among more users.

“Diverse groups including plant biology, structural materials and advanced manufacturing are eager to utilize a much larger fraction of the nation’s available synchrotron resources,” said Brock. “Using X-rays is a highly desirable technique that can transform your research, and this new NSF funding will help us reach a wider user base.”

CHESS has already played a role in research awarded two Nobel prizes and connected to advances in areas from AIDS treatment to fuel efficiency. Going forward, leaders hope it will continue to foster innovation and play a growing role in the economy of Central New York.

Featured image: Equipment at CHESS. (Devon Magliozzi/Ithaca Voice)

Devon Magliozzi

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at or 607-391-0328.