A year after he was appointed CEO, Andrew Harrison has high hopes for the future of the UK’s synchrotron. But as we move beyond Phase III of construction, what are Andrew’s long-term plans for the facility, and what does the future hold for Diamond Light Source?
The persistent need to evolve is inherent to synchrotron science. Diamond’s mission statement affirms the importance of providing “a leading edge facility for scientific research”; and in order to remain world-leading, there is a need to be constantly looking ahead and advancing. Andrew maintains that the values of versatility and resilience are embedded within Diamond’s organisational culture, helping it to stay ahead of the curve. He observes: “One of the first things I noticed about Diamond was the overwhelming sense of positivity and ambition. The organisation feels very young and dynamic, and open minded too about how we might grow and progress.”
The pace of change at Diamond is currently evident in the proliferation of construction equipment and high-vis jackets around the site. There are 24 beamlines now operational, and this number will rise to 33 once Phase III of construction is completed in 2018. Upcoming developments on the Resonant Inelastic X-ray Scattering (RIXS) beamline (I21), Versatile Soft X-ray (VERSOX) beamline (B07), and the dedicated X-PDF station (I15-1) will see Diamond gain a host of beamlines offering new approaches to scientific challenges. The construction of the Electron Microscopy Facility is a particularly interesting development for Diamond, as it will combine three different elements – the Hard X-ray nanoprobe beamline (I14), an electron imaging centre for biology, and an electron microscopy centre for physical sciences – under one roof. The new facility is the first project at Diamond that seeks to co-locate both synchrotron and non-synchrotron facilities. This physical proximity will create new synergies in efforts to tackle common problems in image analysis and sample handling; what’s more, the novel set up demonstrates Diamond’s evolving approach to the services it provides.
Andrew explains: “We’re moving into a new phase for Diamond as we approach the final stages of Phase III construction. That brings with it new challenges and probably new ways of working together.” To determine Diamond’s direction post-Phase III, Andrew has, with his fellow directors, launched a consultation, bringing in stakeholders, scientists, technicians, and funding bodies. Any changes will have implications for everyone involved in Diamond, and so everyone should be involved in this process. The ongoing discussions will help to formulate a 10-year vision of the scientific and societal challenges that could be met through measurements at Diamond, and the technical developments that will enable us to do so. They will also establish a strategy to help achieve these goals.
“This is a conversation that needs to involve everybody”, Andrew observes. “One of our great strengths at Diamond is the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives amongst our stakeholders and staff. That variety ensures that we have a broad range of ways of looking at challenges. There’s a real richness to the discussions we’ve been having, because people come with an array of different experiences and skill-sets. We’re already well on our way to becoming a world-leading facility for scientific research, and this strategy is designed to strengthen that position.”
But what sort of change does Andrew envision for Diamond in the coming decade, and where are current discussions likely to lead? He explains: “We need to talk openly about the organisation and whether the structures that were initially put in place are still appropriate now that we’re a much larger facility. And it may be that they are, but we can’t take that for granted. It’s also important to remember that after seven years of operation, we now have beamlines that were conceived over a decade ago. We need to anticipate upgrades in certain areas.”
“Standing still is not an option. If we want to remain a world-leading science facility then we have to be open to reassessment and renewal. So how do we best adapt to face future scientific and technical challenges? That’s what this consultation is about. This isn’t something that we can just do internally. It’s crucial that we engage with the user community. It’s very healthy that these discussions are also held with external experts, and that we bear in mind the developments taking place at other facilities. We’re not operating in isolation because we’re part of a network of synchrotron facilities throughout Europe, and it’s important that we complement and reflect other institutions with which we share an affinity.”
“And it’s not just Diamond that we have to think about. We’re part of a wider science and innovation site, and we need to ensure Harwell is truly a campus in spirit as well as in name. It’s vital that the 10-year vision looks at Diamond holistically, and considers Diamond in the wider context of its location and the support it offers to users when they visit.”
The ongoing consultation takes a long term view of what the challenges are, and will help to form the basis of the 10-year vision. But in order to deliver, Diamond needs a strategy to put ideas into action. Discussions are currently taking place amongst scientists and engineers. Following this consultation, over 60 external figures will take part in an upcoming 10-year Vision Meeting with a view to refining the practical steps that will help Diamond to achieve the 10-year vision; industrial stakeholders will also be involved in this meeting through the Diamond Industrial Science Committee (DISCo). A discussion with funding bodies will take place at the end of the year, and the December board meeting will see the 10-year vision and attendant strategy presented to Diamond’s key stakeholders. When finalised, the 10-year vision will underpin all future decisions for the further development and operation of Diamond Light Source.
Andrew concludes: “Whenever change is involved there’s a mixture of feelings because it may take us out of our comfort zone, and that can be unsettling. But it’s also a hugely exciting state of affairs for Diamond, embarking on this next stage of the journey. Inherent in the nature of synchrotron science is the fact that we have to keep looking forward. And that’s a positive thing. It’s one of the key things that makes us alive as a facility.”
“You can see that people cherish Diamond because they feel excited and proud of what we do. It comes back to being remarkable. We’re doing all that we can to stay just as pioneering as we were when we first started taking users, and that’s what will guarantee our longevity, that’s what will keep us remarkable.”
As ever, we welcome the views and opinions of Diamond's users and stakeholders, as well as from the wider scientific community. If you would like to share your thoughts on our future plans, please contact the Acting Head of Communications, Silvana Westbury: firstname.lastname@example.org
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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