We take a look at Diamond Light Source as it celebrates its 10th anniversary
In its tenth anniversary year Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, now rivals the most advanced and successful synchrotron facilities in the world in terms of reliability and output. A look back over the last decade sees the facility grow from an agreement on paper to a successful science project the UK can be proud of. The coming years promise more development and technological advancements, impacting on the UK economy and society and pushing the frontiers of our scientific knowledge.
Ten years ago, on 27th March 2002, the UK Government and the Wellcome Trust signed a joint venture agreement that was the beginning of Diamond Light Source Ltd – the UK’s new national synchrotron facility. Diamond was to take up the baton from the Synchrotron Radiation Source (SRS) at the Daresbury Laboratory, in Cheshire, which opened in 1981. The SRS was the world’s first second-generation synchrotron, created to produce X-rays for scientific research. Diamond was to build on Daresbury’s success and move the UK into the next generation of synchrotrons. As a third-generation synchrotron source it would be able to produce X-rays ten billion times brighter than the sun, so focused that they are 100 billion times more intense than a hospital X-ray.
Over the next five years, the Diamond synchrotron grew literally from the ground up – 1,500 concrete piles were anchored into the chalk bed 15 metres below the surface to provide a stable base for the experimental hall floor. A synchrotron is particularly sensitive to movements in its foundations – the electron beam in the main storage ring is only a hair’s breadth across and the experimental X-rays are focused down to a spot just a millionth of a metre (one micron) in size – so a steady and stable platform for experiments is essential.
By 2004, the iconic doughnut-shaped building had appeared on the landscape, giving a futuristic feel to the Oxfordshire countryside and hinting at the advanced technology that was to come. Expertise gathered from around the globe came together to fit out the storage ring with its 450+ magnets and third-generation insertion devices. Progress was swift. First light in the machine was achieved, the first seven beamlines were completed and by January 2007, Diamond was ready for its first user experiments.
Now with five and half years of successful operation under its belt, Diamond is holding its place on the world stage of large scientific facilities. Operational beamlines have grown from seven to 20, with two more due by the end of 2012 and a further ten to be added by 2018.
Gerd Materlik, Diamond’s Chief Executive, comments: “It’s been a real honour to lead this project and be part of a team who in less than five years got the facility constructed as well as up and running for scientific users and all this on time, on budget and to specifications. The following five years were spent delivering science as well as building up the next phase of construction. We have achieved around 1,600 scientific publications so far and over 3,000 researchers are now making up the user community. With a team of 430 strong, Diamond is now on the way to deliver its full potential.”
By 2018, a total of 32 beamlines will be available for research at Diamond. Funding for Phase III was confirmed in October 2010 by the UK Government and the Wellcome Trust to provide for the design, procurement, construction and commissioning of a further ten state-of-the-art beamlines. Building on the progress that has been made under the first two phases of construction, Phase III will maximise the return on the original investment, exploiting the full potential of the source.
The vision for Diamond remains bold: “Throughout its lifetime, Diamond endeavours to be a leading edge facility for scientific research, supporting a wide range of users from both academia and industry, thereby delivering benefits to the UK society and economy. Diamond will strive to respond to the 21st century scientific challenges through the successful management of the facility, the high quality science it delivers and encourage its wide dissemination.”
Thanks to the commitment and dedication of its staff and contractors, the continued support of its user community and the ongoing financial backing of its shareholders, Diamond Light Source promises to play a major role in the UK scientific landscape for decades to come.
Preserving our history
Diamond’s X-rays were used to study the chemical makeup of the timbers from Henry VIII’s famous warship the Mary Rose. The results have helped researchers from the Mary Rose Trust and the University of Kent to come up with a solution to help preserve the ship for centuries to come.
Scientists growing nanometre scale wires for tiny electronic devices are using Diamond to help them create individual components as small as possible without affecting how they function. Diamond’s nanoscience beamline allowed them to monitor the chemical state of individual nanoparticles and determine their chemical makeup, which in turn enabled them to identify a route for growing metallic nanowires on a dielectric substrate.
Researchers investigating HIV can now begin to fully understand how existing antiviral drugs are working, how they might be improved, and how to stop HIV developing resistance to them. By determining the 3D structures of the molecular machine used by retroviruses to insert copies of their genetic material into host DNA, they are now able to understand how this key mechanism works.
Overcoming corneal disease
Abnormalities in the structural organisation of collagen in the cornea have been implicated in the eye disease keratoconus, a leading cause of corneal transplant surgery. Diamond is being used to investigate a potential new therapy that would stiffen the cornea and overcome the astigmatism of keratoconus.
Earlier cancer detection
Survival rates of cancer are generally higher the earlier the cancer is diagnosed, but this relies on conclusive biopsy samples. Diamond’s infrared beamline is helping to identify at single cell level biomarkers in cancer cells to distinguish healthy cells from cancerous ones. The aim is to reduce the number of biopsies and thus reduce risks and side effects for patients, start them on treatment earlier, and reduce costs for the NHS.
Thanks to their low energy consumption, prolonged lifetime, small size and reliability, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are seen as an alternative to incandescent light bulbs. Diamond’s X-rays are being used to probe the structure of the light-emitting material used in LEDs, revealing its growth pattern which will help optimise this technology.
Metals in the brain
Evidence shows that there are subtle differences in trace metals in the brain between people who experience a normal ageing process and people who develop a neurodegenerative disorder. Scientists are using Diamond to collect additional information about where the metal ions are distributed in brain tissues and what form they’re in, helping us to understand if they may be contributing to the disease process.
Renewable energy revolution
Scientists have used Diamond to gain insights into how ultra-cheap solar energy panels for domestic and industrial use can be manufactured on a large scale. They are working on producing nanoscale thin polymer films of solar cells that could be used to make cost-effective, light and easily transportable solar panels.
Applying some mussel
Researchers at Diamond are trying to recreate the material found on the inside layer of a mussel shell. The strong aragonite created by mussels is incredibly tough, far stronger than can currently be synthesised in the lab. Scientists are trying to understand how mussels achieve this strength with a view to produce a material that could improve medical implants.
Engineers from Rolls-Royce were the first to use Diamond’s unique JEEP beamline to test innovative coatings for fan blades of the Trent 1000 engine which powers the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. They were able to capture 3D micrometre images inside the blade to assess risk of failure, without taking the blade apart.
- A synchrotron is a large scientific research facility designed to create extremely bright, focused light which is then used to investigate the atomic and molecular structure of matter and materials. The light is created by accelerating electrons to relativistic speeds and passing them between specialised magnets that bend or wiggle their path. This causes them to give off energy in the form of synchrotron light – X-rays, ultraviolet or infrared light. This bright light can be tuned and focused to a tiny spot less than the width of a human hair to reveal the atomic details within a scientific sample.
Sarah Boundy, PR Officer at Diamond Light Source