Viewed from above, this gigantic circular structure with a silver shine to it looks like a flying saucer that has just landed. Spanning 68,000 square metres, the futuristic 15-metre-high building is as big as the Maracanã football stadium. It’s a researcher’s dream come true. Here in Campinas, in the Brazilian state of São Paulo, one of the world’s largest particle accelerators is currently being built as part of Project Sirius. “Sirius is taking modern-day engineering technology very close to its limits. It will be churning out world-leading research for at least a decade,” predicts physicist Antônio José Roque da Silva, who is the Director General of the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM), which is based at the site, and is in charge of Project Sirius. According to his estimates, experiments that currently take ten hours to carry out will be completed in ten seconds when using Sirius, a fourth-generation accelerator.
November 2018 marked the first milestone, with two of the three accelerators and the building reaching completion. Since then, the people of Brazil have elected a new government and the country continues to suffer from a financial crisis. Yet nothing is stopping South America’s largest country from driving forward this ambitious project. In fact, the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication has allocated around four million euros to the research centre to allow scientists from across the globe to carry out truly innovative experiments.
All three particle accelerators, which are connected in series, have now been installed. The first electron beam circulated on 8 March 2019 – a breakthrough in the construction of the CNPEM research centre’s synchrotron radiation generator. Synchrotron light forms when the pre-accelerated particles almost reach light speed at the final stage and their trajectory is diverted by magnetic fields at approximately 600,000 revolutions per second. This light makes it possible to take high-resolution images of different organic and non-organic materials and processes, including viruses, rock, proteins, plants, metal compounds and human body parts.