MAX-lab is a Swedish national synchrotron radiation facility, first established as a small-scale university project in the late 1970s and then gradually developed into a national and international user facility. This article presents a historical study of MAX-lab that illustrates the decentralized character of the Swedish science policy system and especially its lack of aggregation mechanisms for strategically important initiatives such as the establishment of large research infrastructures. The dominating university sector and the absence of strong central governance structures have made Swedish science policy pluralistic, driven from the bottom up, and decentralized. The genesis and development of MAX-lab, while remarkable when compared to other such facilities internationally, is symptomatically Swedish–it has grown from the bottom up and step by step, and thereby managed to become a respected national and international user facility despite unfavorable conditions. The patchy funding model and the lack of coherent policymaking has led to underfunding and an opaque organizational structure, but MAX-lab and its users have nonetheless been of high quality. This article argues that the determination, patience, adaptivity, and, to some extent, ingenuity of the people involved in MAX-lab have compensated for systemic shortcomings and enabled the laboratory to succeed despite the unfavorable conditions.

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