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Diamond Light Source in its Anniversary Year

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The UK’s national synchrotron, Diamond Light Source, celebrates its double anniversary this year. 2017 sees them mark 15 years since the company was formed, and on the 19th October, they commemorated 10 years since their official opening by Her Majesty the Queen.

Diamond, one of the most advanced science facilities in the world, harnesses the power of electrons to provide powerful X-rays, infrared and ultraviolet light that scientists can use to study anything from fossils and jet engines, to viruses and vaccines.

The Diamond Project, was formed in 2002, following joint venture agreements between the UK Government, the Council Central Laboratories of the Research Council (CCLRC) and the Wellcome Trust – it was described as ‘a facility destined to change the face of the UK’s scientific research’. Following construction and commissioning of the facility, Diamond welcomed its first users in February 2007. However, Diamond not only host researchers but open their doors to the public too. Their CEO Andrew Harrison says “Recognising that the public ultimately pay the taxes that underpin 86% of our funding, we have regularly opened our doors to the public, allowing them to see our incredible science and engineering, but more importantly, to meet the scientists and engineers working with and for Diamond. Since our opening in 2007, we have welcomed over 60,000 visitors, and it is always astounding how much interest the public show in our work. “

Some of the facilities top users shared their thoughts on Diamond and described how it has impacted on their work.

Professor Jonathan Grimes leads a team at the University of Oxford who want to understand how viruses, such as Rabies, Ebola and influenza replicate with the aim of developing targeted therapy.  They have already solved the crystal structure of the influenza C polymerase with the help of the facilities at Diamond, which could provide new insights for drug design.  “The speed of detectors and general improvements in the beamline has revolutionised the speed at which you can do experiments.  Rather than an experiment taking six hours it can now be done in a few minutes” commented Professor Grimes.

Ever wondered what makes ice-cream creamy? Well Professor Peter Lee from the University of Manchester has studied the crystal structures in ice-cream at Diamond to find just that! He and his group use 4-D imaging to study the internal structures of materials as they are being made or to spot any defects and improve their properties. This capability reduces time, cost and “trial and error” in areas such as the manufacture of aeroengine turbine blades.

Dr Caroline Peacock from the University of Leeds has been using Diamond’s facilities since it opened. Her most recent work concerns the mobility and fate of bioessential elements in marine sediments, and she is currently fascinated by the reactivity and cycling of trace metals and organic carbon and their exchange between marine sediments and sea water. “I use Diamond because to understand the global cycling of those elements, we have to understand how they interact on a small scale with minerals and other particles in marine sediments. Ultimately, we want to determine if marine sediments are a sink or a source of these elements to seawater and we want to understand the timescales for these interactions” she explained.

Having grown from 100 staff and 7 operational beamlines to over 600 staff and 30 beamlines in the last 10 years, they are not intending to stop there. Diamond are planning to upgrade the donut-shaped facility, which is currently the size of Wembley stadium, to a machine with a half kilometre circumference which will enable them to provide brighter light and facilitate even more in-depth research.