Diamond Light Source is a new scientific facility currently being built in South Oxfordshire on the Harwell Chilton science campus. This giant machine, a synchrotron, can be described as a series of ‘super microscopes’. It is housed in a futuristic doughnut-shaped building which covers the area of 5 football pitches.
Diamond will ultimately host up to 40 cutting edge research stations, supporting the life, physical and environmental sciences. It will produce x-ray, infrared and ultra-violet beams of exceptional brightness. These highly focused beams of light will enable scientists and engineers to probe deep into the basic structure of matter and materials, answering fundamental questions about everything from the building blocks of life to the origin of our planet.
Synchrotron light is an indispensable tool in many research areas including physics, chemistry, materials science and crystallography. In addition, synchrotron light is increasingly being exploited by new communities such as medicine, geological and environmental studies, structural genomics and archaeology.
What is also interesting is that Diamond is a third generation 3 GeV (Giga electron Volt) synchrotron light source. Third generation light sources use arrays of magnets, called insertion devices, to generate extremely intense, narrow beams of electromagnetic light, about 10,000 times brighter than the UK’s current facility based at the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire.
The Diamond synchrotron's predecessor had a hand in everything from designing the anti-cancer drug Herceptin to improving chocolate manufacture and working out whether Beethoven was poisoned.
Diamond is a million times brighter, allowing scientists to look at tiny structure in much more detail. It is being built in tandem with a complementary machine in France called Soleil. This will specialise in different applications, and scientists will make use of both. The machines are the largest publicly funded fundamental research projects in the two countries.
Josep Sulé-Suso, a cancer doctor at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, plans to use Diamond to study the way lung cancer cells react to drugs. He is using Diamond's predecessor to bombard individual cells with infra-red light and watches how the light they absorb changes. The absorption changes are caused by chemical changes in the cells. He envisages being able to screen samples from patients for tumours that have yet to show symptoms or to examine tissue after chemotherapy to check the cancer has been destroyed.
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