The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is a major research laboratory, owned by the U.S.
Department of Energy and operated by Stanford University. Established in 1962, its mission is to
design, construct, and operate state-of-the-art electron accelerators. At the heart of SLAC is a
three-kilometer (two-mile) long linear particle accelerator and related facilities. This machine
accelerates electrons to very high speeds and energy levels.
The original purpose of this and other
accelerators was to smash the electrons in targets; the resulting collisions briefly break atomic
particles apart and provide clues about the building blocks of atoms. It can also be used to produce
intense beams of x-rays, which scientists can then use to take extraordinarily clear pictures of
atoms and molecules in electronic materials, human proteins, and chemical reactions. Seven scientists
have been awarded Nobel prizes for work done at SLAC, and more than 1,000 scientific papers are
published each year based on research at the lab.