The laboratory in Ontario Hall was constructed to house a seventy-million-volt particle accelerator Queen’s purchased in the late 1940s.
At the time, the machine, called a synchrotron, was hailed as a leap forward in atomic energy research and the study of radiation in Canada.
Intended to help facilitate research into x-ray radiation, the synchrotron consisted of a large electromagnet weighing roughly eight tonnes, which produced a magnetic field to guide electrons around a circular path inside an airtight hollow glass ring.
Operated by remote control because of the radiation the machine emitted, a circuit was adjusted to give the electrons a push each time they went around in a circle, increasing their energy each time. After traversing the circle around a million times—which took about one two-hundredths of a second—the electrons acquired an energy corresponding to seventy million volts.
The synchrotron spins electrons in a circular motion before they are directed to strike a piece of metal. This slows their speed, creating x-rays in the process.