Many different kinds of sophisticated analyses, on a vast array of materials - crystalline and non-crystalline solids, liquids and gases, and all kinds of complex materials - can benefit from synchrotron radiation.
Beamlines are generally dedicated to certain types of experiments. The synchrotron techniques can be broadly broken down into three categories; diffraction (and scattering), spectroscopy and imaging.
X-ray Diffraction and Scattering
One of the most established synchrotron techniques is X-ray diffraction. When X-rays pass through a crystal they are reflected off the regular arrangement of planes of atoms that make up the crystal. Diffraction studies can be used to look at the structure of chemical compounds and composite materials, such as minerals, ceramics, biological samples and electronic and magnetic materials.
Another prominent technique is spectroscopy which allows researchers to detect elements (and their chemical state). Spectroscopic experiments allow researchers to reveal elemental composition, chemical state and physical properties of both inorganic material and biological systems. Scientists use X-rays, infrared and UV and visible light to reveal different characteristics of samples ranging from biomedical samples, condensed matter, engineering materials and magnetic materials.
Imaging and Microscopy
Microfocus beams only a hair's breadth across can observe tiny structures on surfaces such as clusters of metal atoms in what is effectively a powerful electron microscope. When a microfocus soft X-ray beam shines onto the structure, electrons are released, called the photoelectric effect. These electrons are then focused onto a detector. This technique gives resolution down to two nanometres (two billionths of a metre), enabling researchers to see incredibly small structures, such as iron particles used in magnetic recording or the particles of a catalyst that speeds up a chemical reaction.