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How MAX IV works

MAX IV is a kind of microscope. However, its light source has much higher energy and a more intense beam than any other in the world. The short wavelengths of synchrotron light make it possible to see details which are otherwise invisible. The intense beam reveals how atoms and molecules bind to one another, enabling us to understand more about life and materials.

Watch this video to learn more about MAX IV –

Application areas

MAX IV uses various technologies: imaging, spectroscopy and scattering. These are often combined.

An approximate distribution of the areas of application is as follows:

  • Life sciences and biology 35%
  • Applied materials research 25%
  • Physics 12%
  • Chemistry 8%
  • Geology 7%
  • Environmental research 4%
  • Archaeology 3%
  • Other 6%

The process in six steps

  1. In the electron gun, the electrons are accelerated to a speed close to that of light.
  2. The electrons’ energy increases in the linear accelerator.
  3. The electrons circulate in two rings. Electrons with lower energy are sent to the small storage ring. Electrons with higher energy are sent to the large storage ring.
  4. Magnets with different poles bend the electrons’ trajectory. This releases energy in the form of light emitted in the direction of travel.
  5. The light is directed into a pipe. It is then filtered so that only the right wavelength is preserved. When the light collides with the material to be tested, it scatters against a detector.
  6. The data is analysed and the material’s properties are visualised.


Visible light constitutes only a small part of the frequency range for electromagnetic radiation. Large objects can be seen at long wavelengths. For example, aeroplanes can be detected by radar waves. Since the wavelength must be shorter than the object to be detected, wavelengths of around 0.1 nanometres are required to “look at” an atom. This type of light can be generated at MAX IV.

Examples of concrete application areas

Early detection of tumours
One product developed at the MAX IV laboratory is the contrast agent SPAGO Pix. It is a nanomaterial that enables tumours to be more clearly visible at an earlier stage than previously possible.

Studies of graphene
The laboratory makes it possible to study graphene, a material with a thickness of only one (1) layer of carbon atoms. Graphene is transparent, flexible but resistant and conducts electricity. By studying graphene at close quarters, it is possible to investigate its potential uses in nanomaterials, such as conductors.

Water treatment
Water treatment processes use ferric chloride to bind unwanted microorganisms. The resulting sludge consists of complex bonds between ferric chloride and organic substances. MAX IV has the resources to study the molecules in order to separate the iron and use the organic substances to bind phosphorus in agricultural soil, for example.

Analysis of layers, such as paint layers on a painting
Spectroscopy enables the analysis of the various layers of a material. For example, you can 'look behind' the surface layer of a painting. This enabled the discovery of a woman’s face in one of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings.

MAX IV infographic.
This is MAX IV. Click on the image to enlarge (new tab).