- Structural biology
- Chemistry and catalysis
- Condensed matter physics
- Engineering and materials
- Biomaterials and medicine
- Soft matter
- Drawing on academic and industrial expertise
- Beyond the single beamline experiment
- Delivering the best science possible
Scientists working in structural biology are tackling increasingly complex problems, many of which require a combination of techniques and access to experimental equipment that one institute or company cannot afford on their own. In addition to the MX beamlines, users will be able to access the cryo EM facilities in the new Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC). It will offer the imaging approaches of single particle analysis of biological macromolecules and cellular tomography, as well as electron crystallography. Add to this the elemental mapping in cells provided by the X-ray nanoprobe and the larger scale cell imaging capability of the new Full Field Cryo Transmission X-ray Microscope (cryo-TXM) and the potential for major advances in structural biology at Diamond are clear. The challenge will be to foster cooperation and collaboration between the techniques so that there is integration. Users will need to be able to access support and training in techniques that they are not currently experienced in, but which offer potential for their area of research.
Chemistry and catalysis
Chemistry and catalysis represent a key area for the scientific community within industry. And there are also some very important fundamental questions about structure and reactivity of materials in general. Academic and industrial scientists are striving to look directly at how chemical bonds break and reform during a chemical reaction. There are huge technical challenges to be met if the facility is to help them to look ever more quickly and down at the nanoscale. Diamond’s mandate is to develop the technology to meet these scientific challenges and, in doing so, help industry develop improved catalysts and more efficient industrial processes.
Condensed matter physics
Condensed matter physics underpins modern electronic devices and Diamond has an important role to play in speeding up the process of discovery of new materials, and novel properties that may be engineered in nanostructures. Scientists working in this field require higher throughput and more automation. The synchrotron’s ability to help scientists to study the properties of materials down at the nanoscale is crucial as we seek to miniaturise devices and harness the power of nanotechnology to bring us technology solutions that are smaller, faster, cheaper and more reliable.
Engineering and materials
Diamond's engineering and materials capabilities support many varied applications, covering transport in all its forms, the means to power society in the 21st century, and widely used manufacturing processes such as welding where more detailed knowledge will deliver advances. Alloys and batteries can be improved through a greater understanding of what is happening on the atomic scale. Once again, there is a need to make measurements over many length scales.
Biomaterials and medicine
Society faces huge challenges due to an ageing population. Diamond has valuable tools that can help clinicians identify biomarkers to aid early diagnosis of tissue problems and the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. When considering the facility’s future role in biomaterials and medicine, ethical discussions took place in relation to where efforts should be focused. It was recognised that the health problems associated with ageing are most relevant to the developed world and, as a national facility, it is appropriate for Diamond to study health issues that are impacting UK society. However, we should remain open to proposals that represent the best science and always strive to ensure our discoveries are promoted around the world to widen their impact.
Soft matter systems are, by nature, less well defined. They can be flexible, fluid and possess large molecular structures. Scientists working on these systems are interested in how the materials are formed during industrial processes. They need to be able to observe the manufacturing processes in the beam and to mimic polymer extrusion and microfluidic processes. Ultimately, researchers are looking to improve the performance of the materials that they are studying or identify new materials that can improve on those currently in use.
Drawing on academic and industrial expertise
In addition to discussion of scientific areas, a number of other themes came out strongly from all the groups that met during the vision meeting. When discussing aspirations for bringing industrial processes on to the beamlines, it was widely acknowledged that the expertise to enable this to happen is to be found within the universities where collaborations with industry already exist. It was also felt that there are definite advantages for universities to have a presence close to the synchrotron. They can then build new apparatus that can easily be transported to the beamline for testing prior to the start of beamtime. This model is already working successfully for researchers from the University of Manchester who are based just next to the synchrotron in the Research Complex at Harwell (RcaH).
Beyond the single beamline experiment
As Diamond grows, both in terms of the number of beamlines and the additional facilities in close proximity to the synchrotron - facilities such as the membrane protein laboratory (MPL), the Research Complex at Harwell (RcaH), the electron microscopy facilities, and the UK Hub for the XFEL in Hamburg - the offer to users needs to evolve too. Diamond will continue to offer access to single beamlines, but needs to widen this, enabling access to a combination of beamlines and other complementary facilities as part of a single proposal.
Delivering the best science possible
Diamond strives to provide a leading edge facility for scientific research and the discussions around the new vision and strategy have helped shape the facility's strategic plans going forward.