Question Sheet: Big Machine Reveals Small Worlds


Before reading:

  1. What do you think would be the best possible thing that scientists could

    invent or discover? Explain your answer. 

  2. How do scientists use beams of light? 
  3. Based on the title of the article, what would you predict this story is about?

During reading:

  1. What is a synchrotron? 
  2. Why are atoms important? Why does the author compare atoms to letters in the


  3. How is the synchrotron’s beamline different from a laser pointer? 
  4. What is one application for infrared light? 
  5. Why might the synchrotron work better than an x ray for treating cancer? 
  6. How can scientists use synchrotrons to solve crimes and mysteries?

After reading:

  1. Häusermann describes the synchrotron as a “big toy.” Do you think that is an

    accurate description for the machine? Compare and contrast the synchrotron with one of your favorite toys. 

  2. Why do scientists need such a large machine to look at such small things? 
  3. If you owned a synchrotron, what would you do with it? Whom would you allow

    to use it? Explain your answers. 

  4. The article claims that synchrotron technology has helped create better

    packaging for potato chips. What problems might there be with snack packaging?

    How do you think a synchrotron could help improve such a product? 

  5. How do you think the particular wavelength of microwaves helps this type of

    energy heat food? For help, see 

  6. Synchrotrons harness the power of electrons. How else do scientists use

    electrons? How do we use electrons in our daily lives? For hints, see 

  7. What is the difference between an electron and an atom?




  1. This article contains lots of complicated ideas. Pick one part of the

    article that is confusing to you. How would you go about gathering more

    information about this topic? 

  2. Write a detective story in which the detective uses a beamline to solve a

    crime. Make sure to incorporate as much science as you can into the story.


The synchrotron beamline that Häusermann plans to use will measure 0.4 inch wide at its source and 24 inches wide at its destination, 492 feet away. On average, how much wider will the beamline get for every foot that it travels?