Argonne National Laboratory

Extreme X-Rays and Particle Accelerators
"Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge." - Carl Sagan


At Argonne's Advanced Photon Source (APS), scientists control electron beams moving at 99.999% the speed of light to produce some of the brightest x-rays on the planet. These x-rays are used to study materials for basic science and numerous applications including pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, and energy technologies. Students will learn how this incredible device works and practice some of the skills that scientists practice to make and utilize these extreme x-rays.


  • For Students
    • Thinking Strategically: Experience how engineers optimize designs based on experimental results
    • Thinking Flexibly: Learn to change perspective and arrive at unexpected conclusions based on inference, evidence-based thinking, and scientific argumentation.
  • For Teachers
    • Promoting Scientific Discourse: Our instructors will guide your students through evidence-based debates. This promotes a collaborative environment in which students make decisions in a strategic way.
    • How to Get Involved: As students test different designs for their magnetic accelerator, teachers can help guide them throught the process of observing trends in their data and understanding the outcomes.

What the Students Will Be Doing

This Learning Lab consists of two activities: Accelerator Design and Diffraction.

Accelerator Design: Student teams design a magnetic linear accelerator using a Gauss gun. They investigate concepts in magnetism and energy transfer, collect data, and optimize their design based on previous results. By observing relationships and patterns in their data, students make thoughtful modifications in a friendly competition to see which team can achieve the greatest acceleration.
Diffraction: In this "Black Box Experiment", student teams use a laser to investigate a "mystery" material. Students discover light scattering as a tool for determining the microscopic structure of matter, and infer the material's structure by observing symmetry in the laser diffraction patterns. 

Featured NGSS Science and Engineering Practices


  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence

NGSS Alignment