Opened in 1947 on the former site of the U.S. military's Camp Upton in New York, Brookhaven National Lab's (BNL) initial mission centered on the peaceful exploration of the atom. Particle accelerators, leading chemistry and biology experiments, and visionary scientists soon joined research reactors, and Brookhaven began innovation and exploration. The Lab's new mission is to perform basic and applied research including nuclear and high-energy physics, physics and chemistry of materials, nanoscience, energy and environmental research, national security and nonproliferation, neurosciences, structural biology, and computational sciences. Over its history, Brookhaven Lab has housed three research reactors, one-of-a-kind particle accelerators, and other facilities.

Because astronauts are spending more time in space, NASA is working with Brookhaven to learn about the possible risks to human beings exposed to space radiation through the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL).

BNL scientists have discovered subatomic particles, new forms of matter, and pioneered the kinds of technology that fuel experimental programs around the world. BNL research has also led to lifesaving medical imaging techniques that have revolutionized diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, BNL is located on the center of Long Island, New York.

Research Themes

Brookhaven research focuses on five main themes:

  1. Energy Security: Blazing innovative trails toward a sustainable future powered by solar, wind, hydrogen, and other renewable sources.

  2. Photon Sciences: Focusing ultra-bright light to reveal the structures of materials critically important to biology, technology, and more.

  3. QCD Matter: Colliding subatomic particles to recreate matter from the dawn of time, and study the force that gives shape to visible matter in the universe today.

  4. Physics of the Universe: Exploring cosmic mysteries across the smallest and largest scales imaginable, from neutrinos to dark energy.

  5. Climate, Environment, & Biosciences: Mapping climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and plant biology to protect our planet's future.

Using state-of-the-art transmission electron microscopes (TEMs), researchers at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials take images of specimens that can be as small as a few billionths of a meter in size. Materials scientists use this information to develop new nanotechnologies and pursue answers to fundamental energy challenges.

Brookhaven researchers are developing game-changing technologies to power the transition to new, more efficient, and sustainable energy sources to meet the world's current and future energy needs, focusing on two overarching areas of science and technology research: electrical infrastructure and sustainable chemical conversions. BNL research addresses challenges at all essential points in the energy pipeline — generation, transmission, storage, and end use — with initiatives ranging from fundamental physics to grid-scale deployment. This includes improving the electric grid and innovations in alternative fuels.

BNL conducts scientific research using photons — particles of light — to probe the structure and makeup of materials. The National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) uses electrons accelerated along a high-tech ring at nearly the speed of light to create beams of light in the x-ray, ultraviolet, and infrared wavelengths, resulting in a kind of giant microscope. Major advances in energy technologies — such as using hydrogen as an energy source, the implementation of solar energy, or the development of the next generation of nuclear power systems — require scientific breakthroughs in developing new materials with advanced properties. NSLS-II is a non-destructive tool that gives researchers the ability to “watch” the system dynamics of a wide range of materials with nanoscale resolution — on the order of just billionths of a meter.

Brookhaven scientists use imaging facilities such as the PET (Positron Emission Tomography) to study human disease.

Brookhaven leads the world in exploring how the matter that makes up atomic nuclei behaved just after the Big Bang. At that time, more than 13 billion years ago, there were no protons and neutrons, just a sea of “free” quarks and gluons — fundamental particles whose interactions are governed by nature's strongest force, and described by the theory of quantum chromodynamics (QCD). More than 1,000 scientists from around the world come to BNL to recreate this “quark-gluon plasma” by accelerating heavy ions (atoms stripped of their electrons) to nearly the speed of light and smashing them together at the Lab's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). Detailed studies of the particles that stream out of these collisions have helped reveal surprising features of the early universe.

Research at RHIC has benefits that extend well beyond the physics community, including these technological advances:

  • Production of medical radioisotopes for heart scans and cancer diagnosis/treatment,

  • Beams used to study effects of space radiation with NASA support,

  • Major accelerator technology breakthroughs that advance cancer treatment systems,

  • Advanced energy-storage systems using superconducting magnets,

  • Research and development on accelerator technologies with possible defense applications,

  • Accelerator technologies that could drive safer future nuclear reactors,

  • Advances in computing and “big data” management and analysis applicable to many fields, and

  • Training for the next generation of scientists.

Game-Changing Technologies

Beyond the five major research activities and initiatives, Brookhaven scientists apply their expertise to a range of additional research programs and partnerships linked to core capabilities.

Until 1993, it was thought that only the Sun's shorter UV-B rays were cancer-causing. That year, BNL researchers and collaborators announced their findings that malignant melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, can be induced by the longer UV-A rays as well as UV-B. Their findings in tropical fish susceptible to melanoma were extrapolated to humans, who are now warned to use proper sunscreen protection.

Computational Science: Through its leadership in RHIC/ATLAS computing, BNL pioneers methods for large-scale and high-throughput scientific data management and archiving, advanced networking, and distributed analysis and access. The infrastructure and capabilities developed for handling accelerator physics data ensure network connectivity for the Lab, and supply expertise applicable to many other areas of science.

Biological Imaging: Brookhaven has a world-leading program in advanced biological imaging and the development and production of medical radiotracers. BNL develops new technologies and instrumentation based on advances in accelerator physics, and applies them to studies with plants, animals, and humans. Brookhaven also explores new technologies for simultaneous diagnosis and treatment.

Nonproliferation and Homeland Security: Brookhaven's efforts to improve homeland security are focused on the detection and control of radiological sources, as funded by the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the National Nuclear Security Administration. This includes three core themes: developing advanced radiation detectors for portal and cargo monitoring, scientific and technical assistance in response to radiological incidents, and modeling how contaminants would move if released in an urban environment. Radiation detectors also help advance medical diagnostic devices.

Accelerator Science & Technology: BNL's expertise in accelerator science and technology underlies its history of discovery, and remains the backbone of future initiatives in Photon Sciences, QCD Matter, Physics of the Universe, and more. Beyond the Lab, much of the accelerator technology developed at Brookhaven addresses major national needs including improving precision and reducing the cost of cancer treatment facilities, developing high-power proton accelerators important to subcritical nuclear power reactors, and enhancing electron accelerators for production of medical radioisotopes.

Research Facilities

Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory peer at a combination supercritical CO2 reactor/ spectroscopic cell used to study photocatalytic reduction of CO2 to CO. A long-range goal is to determine chemical pathways that ultimately could be useful for converting large amounts of CO2 to methanol or other fuel.

Brookhaven operates a number of large-scale, cuttingedge research facilities. Scientists from laboratories, universities, and industries around the world use these facilities to delve into physics, chemistry, biology, materials science, energy, and the environment.

The RHIC smashes particles together to recreate the conditions of the early universe so scientists can explore the most fundamental building blocks of matter as they existed just after the Big Bang. This research unlocks secrets of the force that holds together 99 percent of the visible universe, and triggers advances in science and technology that have applications in fields from medicine to national security.

The NSLS-II generates intense beams of x-ray, ultraviolet, and infrared light, and offers imaging techniques to capture atomic-level “pictures” of a wide variety of materials, from biological molecules to semiconductor devices.

The Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) provides tools for creating and exploring the properties of materials with dimensions spanning just billionths of a meter. Focus areas include improving solar cells and other electronic nanomaterials, designing more efficient catalysts, developing new capabilities and uses for electron microscopy, and nanofabrication based on soft and biological nanomaterials.

The NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) uses beams of heavy ions from the accelerators that feed RHIC to simulate space radiation and study its effects on biological specimens such as cells, tissues, and DNA, as well as industrial materials.

The Computational Science Center (CSC) houses two supercomputers with collectively more than 45,000 core processors, and a suite of new tools developed specifically for interactive visual and statistical data analysis. Researchers use these tools to address questions in computational biology, nanoscience, sustainable energy, environmental science, and homeland security.

The Accelerator Test Facility (ATF) is designed to explore new methods of accelerating particles to higher energies and producing ever-brighter x-ray beams. Research has implications for both physics research and future medical applications, including new cancer treatment systems.

ATLAS — a seven-story-high machine — is a particle physics experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. BNL is the host laboratory for United States collaborators on ATLAS.

The Long Island Solar Farm (LISF) is a 32-megawatt solar array that is currently the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the Eastern United States, generating enough renewable energy to power approximately 4,500 homes.

The Brookhaven Linac Isoptope Producer (BLIP) produces commercially unavailable radioisotopes for use by the medical community and related industries.

The Tandem Van de Graaff facility — a large electrostatic accelerator — can provide researchers with beams of more than 40 different types of ions, which are atoms that have been stripped of their electrons. By simulating the effects of radiation both in space and on the ground, scientists and engineers from several other laboratories and companies are improving the reliability of computers.

Work with BNL

Brookhaven National Laboratory's Office of Technology Commercialization and Partnerships (TCP) manages and advances the commercialization of discoveries and technologies by fostering collaborations with industry through licensing and sponsored research.

BNL's facilities are available to industry for research and development in fields such as biology and medicine, chemistry and environmental sciences, physics, and material science.

For More Information

For more information, contact Poornima Upadhya, Technology Commercialization Manager, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or 631344-4711.

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Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2017 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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