Diamond Light Source makes the invisible visible

July 05, 2019 // By Phil McCluskey
Diamond Light
Diamond Light Source, located on the Harwell Campus near Didcot, Oxfordshire, is the UK’s national synchrotron; a not-for-profit research institute that’s free at the point of use for the general scientific community, provided results are published in scientific literature.

As an electron accelerator, with a circumference twice as long as The Shard, the instrument generates an extremely intense light source containing wavelengths from X-rays to infrared. How intense? The 2kW X-ray beamline is about one hundred billion times more powerful than the machines you might encounter in hospital or at the dentist.

The synchrotron light is channelled into multiple beamlines that scientists can use for various types of experiments. In total there are 39 instruments offering various beam sizes, energy levels, and wavelengths. So far, projects have included peering inside dinosaur eggs, analysing the foot and mouth virus, gathering insights into the Fukushima nuclear accident, studying the degradation of irreplaceable old-master paintings, cancer research, advanced battery research, and many other analyses that require sub-molecular or atomic resolution such as researching technologies for recycling and clean growth.

Fig. 1: The ViSR beamline enables demonstrations
in the visible spectrum.

Given the nature of the instrument and its funding model, being largely government backed, education and outreach are an important part of the facility’s activities. Visitors can experience a guided tour and see inside the synchrotron and laboratories when in shutdown. But it’s not so easy to explain the nature of a high-intensity 2kW X-ray beam to groups of visitors like school parties, simply and safely. For this, the team at Diamond has created the Visible Synchrotron Radiation (ViSR) beamline which can be visited whilst the synchrotron is operational, opening up new opportunities to expand and consolidate their visitor programme. At a mere 20µW, ViSR is safe to observe (figure 1) and the visible wavelengths are used in high-speed electronic demonstrations that can be viewed at close quarters.

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