Diamond Light Source makes the invisible visible

Diamond Light Source makes the invisible visible

Technology News |
By Julien Happich

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.

Helping the team present the results in a series of clear and understandable images is a new R&S RTA4004 1GHz 4-channel oscilloscope provided by Rohde & Schwarz. Rohde & Schwarz engineers, visiting Harwell, saw the ViSR demonstration being presented on outdated equipment and offered to loan the more modern instrument on a permanent basis.


Making the invisible visible

The synchrotron light does not contain continuous streams of photons, but is in fact pulses occurring at a frequency of

Fig. 2: The ViSR beamline is converted to a 500MHz
signal and displayed on the R&S RTA4004.

500MHz. One of the demonstrations uses a high-speed optical diode to convert the ViSR beamline to a 500MHz electrical signal, which is then compared with other light sources such as the continuous photon stream produced by an ordinary torch. It’s a powerful visual demonstration of a mostly invisible phenomenon.

Fig. 3: Presenting large, clear pictures, aided by
the R&S RTA4004, helps explain the value of
Diamond to the scientific community.

The 500MHz signal is not difficult for today’s scopes to capture (figure 2) but, as Diamond’s Chris Bloomer explains, “The R&S RTA4004 is extremely user friendly and easy to figure out. Its large screen is great for doing demonstrations with visitors, and modern connectivity options allow us to pull up the display on larger computer monitors or control the scope remotely.” Diamond hosts regular visits from the public, schools, scientists, and politicians.

See for yourself

And was there anything in the dinosaur egg? Unfortunately, no T-Rex was found, but Diamond’s non-destructive analysis was able to resolve individual grains of sand inside. We now know that if such a specimen exists Diamond would be able to visualise it. With the prospect of such an awesome find waiting to be discovered, why not go online at and book onto the next open day to see for yourself how Diamond are helping scientists to carry out world changing science.


About the author:

Phil McCluskey is Sales Engineer, University Business Development at Rohde & Schwarz –

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