Diamond is an internationally leading synchrotron, providing powerful X-rays, infrared and ultraviolet light to enable world-class science at universities and in industry. However, the technology of synchrotrons and the science it enables moves at a breathtaking pace so we must be forward thinking, and continue to upgrade our facilities to provide the very best opportunities to our user community. This involves ensuring that every step in the delivery of science is second to none, from the machine at the centre of operations to the astonishingly large quantities of data needing to be processed and curated.
With 28 beamlines operational, 2016 saw the smooth integration of the Membrane Protein Laboratory (MPL) as part of our core operation and the start of both our electron microscopy centres with our Electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC) welcoming its first users in June 2016 and our Electron Physical Science Imaging Centre (ePSIC) being officially launched in early September. All of the instruments housed in these new facilities benefit from our experience in highly efficient user operations to ensure that they are utilised to their full potential and feed off the synergy with science, expertise and instrumentation at Diamond. In particular, 2016 also brought first light on the Hard X-ray Nanoprobe beamline (I14) which will complement eBIC and ePSIC with the insights it provides into a host of materials.
The past calendar year saw us increase our total of peer reviewed journal articles to some 5794 and retained our position as a world-leader in its class of synchrotrons for solving protein structures. This will be consolidated as new beamlines and integrated facilities come online. Last year, there were 8,073 user visits to Diamond. In the last financial year, we received 1,554 proposals for experiments on beamlines and electron microscopes, which requested a total of 16,557 shifts. This resulted in 8,866 experimental shifts being awarded, spread across the 28 operational beamlines and two of the electron microscopes. Within academia, 57% of our user visits were welcomed across all facilities, with the remaining 43% accessing Diamond remotely.
Diamond’s impact is also demonstrated in its high levels of engagement with Industry hitherto welcoming over 100 companies carrying out proprietary projects across 25 beamlines, integrated facilities and laboratories. In the past year alone, we have achieved a 15% increase in income growth. The breadth and depth of the industrial involvement is increasingly strong as the facility gets ever closer to full operational mode for its entire instrument portfolio.
A key accomplishment in 2016 has been the successful installation of a brand new section of the storage ring. For the first time in its ten years of operation, we have changed a 23 m section of our half a kilometre circumference machine, replacing it with a Double Double Bend Achromat (DDBA). The DDBA doubles capacity in this section of the machine by providing space for a new insertion device serving a new X-ray beamline. Known as VMXm, this new beamline is currently under commissioning and will support biomedical research. The DDBA project involved more than 110 members of staff and took over three years to complete from design to installation. We are proud that it was delivered on time and on budget and the installation itself took place in November, with a smooth transition back to regular operations ahead of schedule. This was a sterling job on all fronts.
Simultaneously one of the original macromolecular crystallography beamlines has been upgraded to become the new beamline, VMXi. Internationally, this is the most advanced of its kind, as it will increase the amount of samples that can be looked at ten-fold. This means a dramatic acceleration of how quickly we can get atomic and molecular information which underpins breakthroughs in our understanding of diseases and how drug compounds work.
We have always worked hard to minimise any disruptions to our users when they are carrying out experiments at Diamond. Every year, we operate for over 200 days, and in the last two years our ‘mean time between failures’ has risen to above 100 hours, making us one of the most reliable and most available facilities in the world. Looking forward, we are developing the technical and scientific case for a significant upgrade to our storage ring. This will allow us to provide even brighter and more coherent beams to our researchers, thus supplying them with the tools to determine more about materials and further insights into systems under true operating conditions.
By 2020, Diamond will have 33 operational beamlines, which together with complementary facilities – eBIC, ePSIC, the MPL together with the XChem Fragment Screening service and the XFEL Hub - will provide a truly integrated facility for virtually every field of science.
To maintain our position, we must continue to employ world-class people. We have expanded from around 100 staff in 2007 to more than 600 today, and it is through their efforts that Diamond continues to maintain its place as a leading facility. In October 2016, Diamond was presented with the Athena Swan Bronze award, which recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just the barriers to progression that affect women.
We have a number of schemes designed to build on our Athena Swan award, with the new Diamond apprenticeship scheme and our redesigned PhD student programme. In the longer term, we aspire to build an educational and training centre onsite to support the growth of skills in our user communities now 10,000 strong, in our schools’ engagement work and in our university partnerships.
In broad terms, the public ultimately pay the taxes that underpin 86% of our funding. Since 2007, 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. We have welcomed over 60,000 visitors since opening in 2007, and it is always astounding how much interest the public show in our work, and humbling to think that many of the young people we are showing round the facility could soon be working here.
2016 was also marked by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. No one knows where the negotiations will take us, but we hope that the UK Government will bring some security to the 16% of staff who are EU nationals working at Diamond. We also wish that together with our academic partners, we will retain access to future EU Framework programmes and to research and innovation programmes in order to continue to benefit from close engagement with the wider European scientific community. Science is ultimately a collaborative endeavour characterised among other things by ingenuity and tenacity, and these qualities will be crucial in shaping new scientific relationships in this changing political era.
As we enter 2017, we celebrate our double anniversary, Diamond is not only a visible landmark in the Oxfordshire landscape, but has become a cornerstone of the Harwell Campus. I feel very privileged to be at the helm at this important stage in its development and I am confident that our plans for the next ten years will continue to see Diamond positioned at the forefront of scientific research in the UK, Europe and globally.
Prof Andrew Harrison
CEO Diamond Light Source
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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