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The Fluid Systems Engineering and Management Blog

by Swagelok Northern California

Helping SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory Push the Limits of Scientific Discovery

by Neil Ide, on 3/15/17 8:30 AM

A Custom Panel Success: Pushing the Limits

Swagelok Northern California’s team believes in supporting the sciences and pushing industry forward — and we have since 1963. From our deep inventory of specialty parts to a wide range of technical experience, we apply our expertise to develop assembly solutions of all shapes and sizes, including those that have yet to be dreamt of. 

Custom gas flow panel assemblies to support scientific research

For more than 50 years the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (formerly known as Stanford Linear Accelerator Center), has been advancing understanding of chemistry and physics. The two-mile-long accelerator was built to accelerate electrons to nearly the speed of light to more deeply explore the nature of matter. One of the earliest fundamental discoveries by SLAC researchers was the existence of quarks. Quarks are the sub-atomic particles that make up neutrons and protons in the atomic nucleus.
Since its construction in 1962, SLAC has been upgraded several times with all manner of additional instruments such as: The Linac Coherent Light Source, the Stanford Positron Electron Asymmetric Ring (SPEAR) and Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Light source (SSLR). SLAC is home to an international community of researchers who have back-to-back experiments booked for years in advance. Once an experiment date is set it cannot be missed, otherwise the research team can be delayed for months or years waiting for another chance to get on the beam line.

SLAC Stanford National Accelerator Laboratory


A detailed look

Specialized light sources such as the free electron X-ray laser and the synchrotron radiation facility at SLAC are heavily used in photochemical research and molecular imaging to further our understanding of chemistry. Last year, Gary Rettberg, Swagelok Northern California's account manager for SLAC, received a call from Alessandro Gallo at SLAC. Alessandro needed help figuring out the right components to use to build his test apparatus. Every account manager at Swagelok knows that I’d rather die than miss the opportunity to visit a national lab and do something for the physics community; and the next week we sat down with Alessandro at his SLAC office.

SLAC-Sculpture.pngThe giant sculpture in the lobby and classic pictures of Richard Feynman giving lectures made the trip worth it all by themselves.

When we first met with Alessandro and his team, we learned that they had a gas phase reactor for the chemical research project on operando characterization of catalysts at SSRL and that beam time was only 16 weeks away. So, there would be just enough time to get the rest of the equipment together for the test bench. Right then and there, the scope shifted from component selection to vertical integration of the test bench for the experiment. Around a small coffee table in the break room, Alessandro and I sketched out the basic test bench gas panel diagram including remote controlled pressure regulator, six-way switching valve for volume calibration, calibrated volumes, and several mass flow controllers.

Refining the concept

After several weeks of back and forth, we finally settled on a final configuration. During the design effort, Alessandro requested help identifying the data acquisition and control equipment needed to operate the gas panel remotely. When the beam line is operating, the hutch is irradiated and not safe for humans. Any equipment in the hutch must be operated remotely. So we reached out to some experts in the field and asked for their assistance.


After all was said and done, we wound up using every bit of our 16 weeks to complete the test bench. We delivered the test equipment directly to the beam line the day before the test. I’m no stranger to laboratory equipment, and spent a good couple of hours with Alessandro and his team at the facility training them on the equipment operation.

For science!

As modern humans we often take for granted the fact that our life spans have almost tripled, we can travel hundreds of miles in less than an hour, we communicate with friends and loved ones on the other side of the globe in real time, and we enjoy nearly all the world’s information at our fingertips. We live in the future. All of these things were made possible by the work of dedicated people hurtling themselves at the limit of human understanding. Our scientists have to jump through a hundred hoops to perform an experiment to push the boundary forward. Assisting with the advancement of scientific understanding is one of the many ways we like to give back at Swagelok.

Swagelok Assembly Solutions

Innovation is essential to the team here at Swagelok Northern California, and we’re proud to provide solutions to the scientific community that help to push boundaries. From sourcing ideal parts to drafting CAD to developing brand new systems, we offer solutions for any project.

Our team strives to offer improved efficiency, flexibility, and innovation to customers in specialized industries of all kinds. Peace of mind and problem solving? That’s just what we do. Learn more about our successful work, CAD development capabilities, and how Swagelok Northern California can help with your next project by reaching out to the team today. or download our Assembly Solutions Case Study collection to learn more.

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