Australian science will get a major boost with the opening of the country's first synchrotron in July. The Australian Synchrotron, a Aus$207-million (US$169-million) platform that accelerates electrons to nearly the speed of light, will be in Clayton, Victoria, home to Monash University.

It's a third-generation, 3-giga-electronvolt (medium energy) light source, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. “A technologically healthy country without a synchrotron to train its young researchers and to provide state-of-the-art facilities for its forefront industries will unavoidably fall behind,” says Daniel Häusermann, a Swiss physicist who was recruited to design one of the beamlines.

“Some of the animal models for lung-disease studies are genetically modified organisms, and it is extremely difficult if not impossible to carry out this work overseas,” says Karen Siu, a lecturer at Monash University who studies lung diseases, including cystic fibrosis. She will use the synchrotron to develop phase-contrast X-ray imaging to diagnose disease and reveal the efficacy of gene therapy for cystic fibrosis.

The Australian Synchrotron has the capacity for more than 30 beamlines. Nine have been proposed, and five have already been installed, including ones for high-throughput protein crystallography, powder defraction, X-ray absorption spectroscopy, soft X-ray spectroscopy and infrared spectroscopy. Forensic sciences, drug design, radiation therapy and studies of oocyte maturation for in vitro fertilization are among scientists' applications for the light source.

A 150-metre-long medical imaging beamline will be used for imaging studies and therapy. It will deliver more precise and effective radiation therapies and detect cancers near the single-cell stage. “If you have a better understanding of how the tumour develops, you can understand the mechanisms and develop better drugs,” says Häusermann. A new biomedical imaging development centre will be located nearby.

Scientists from around the world have been recruited, including Mark Tobin, from Britain's Synchrotron Radiation Source at Daresbury.

The platform has been funded by universities, research bodies, five Australian states and the government of New Zealand. The Australian government has promised Aus$50 million over the facility's first five years of operation.