Phoebe Allan is a Senior Support Scientist working across the Engineering and Environment Village beamlines I11, I12, I15, and I15-1. These beamlines provide a range of X-ray imaging and diffraction techniques and are capable of using a diverse range of sample environments to, for example, recreate the conditions of planetary interiors or examine the properties of materials in realistic working conditions.
How did you get into synchrotron science, and what were you doing before coming to Diamond?
Well I’ve used synchrotrons for quite a few years now to perform a variety of in situ experiments and have had the chance to help develop a number of different types of sample environment. I did a degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge and then went on to do a PhD at the University of St Andrews. My PhD used single crystal X-ray diffraction and high-resolution powder diffraction to look at how Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) store and release medical gases.
After St Andrews, I went back to Cambridge as a Research Fellow at Gonville and Caius College, looking into new materials for electrodes for rechargeable batteries. Many of these were highly disordered or amorphous materials, which are challenging to characterise. X-ray Pair Distribution Function (PDF) analysis can give a lot of valuable information about these kinds of materials, so I did a lot of work using Diamond’s I15 beamline and 11-ID-B at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) in Chicago.
What do you do here, and how does your experience help?
The main part of my role here is to support users who need sample environments; either adopting existing systems for a particular experiment, or helping create new environments for the range of different samples we get in the Engineering and Environment Village. Each project throws up unique challenges. I’m with the users every step of the way; advising them prior to their application, and then working on their specific needs once beamtime has been awarded, and during the experiment itself.
The sample environment work goes alongside my role as a local contact for users on I12 and I15, so I get to provide that general beamline support, which lets me get a good overview of the different science going on in a range of fields.
What projects have you been working recently?
Many of the users in the Engineering and Environment Village want to heat their samples to high temperature, and so this year I’ve been working on a new furnace (pictured) that can heat samples upwards of 1200 °C. It’s gold plated to allow us to reach higher temperatures! This is useful for industrial as well as academic users and can be applied to many different materials; from metals to minerals and ceramics. It will let people see how these materials perform at these high temperatures – either through tomographic imaging or by observing changes to their crystal structures using diffraction.
The new furnace developed in the Engineering and Environment Village uses focused infrared radiation to achieve temperatures up to 1500 °C. The furnace was constructed using direct metal laser sintering (3D printed metal) - a technique widely used at Diamond for creating bespoke components.
I’ve also been able to continue with my electrochemical energy research in collaboration with the group of Prof Clare Grey in Cambridge. Lately I’ve been working on some in situ sample holders for a PDF experiment on I15-1; allowing batteries to charge and discharge over time, whilst simultaneously collecting X-ray diffraction data on the cells. This should give us valuable information about structural changes taking place during battery operation.
What’s your favourite thing about working at Diamond?
The pace of things is really exciting – we know that every 6 months we’ll get new user proposals to work on and a new round of sample environment challenges.
I also really like working with a big team. All the different backgrounds and expertise – scientists, engineers, and technicians, software and IT people; all experts in their fields working together. It’s great for professional development too as we’re all learning from one another on the job.
What advice would you give someone wanting to get involved in your field?
Sometimes it’s hard to look up from your particular area, but it’d say it’s really important to take the opportunity to stretch yourself and learn something new. As an early career scientist, it’s important to be an expert in an area, but as a lot of science happens at the boundary of different fields, it’s good to remain open to exploring other areas and to say ‘yes’ when new opportunities arise.
For more information on sample environments across the Engineering and Environment Village beamlines, including the new furnace, send Phoebe an email: firstname.lastname@example.org