Diamond Light Source is one of the world’s most advanced scientific machines, and its goal is to remain a world leading centre for science. Construction is still ongoing at the synchrotron, and every year we deliver new and innovative facilities to support scientists at the cutting-edge of research.
The newest beamline to make use of Diamond’s intense light is I08, Scanning X-ray microscopy, which is a multi-modal spectro-microscopy beamline, headed by Principal Beamline Scientist (PBS) Burkhard Kaulich. This beamline will offer scientists a combination of facilities that do not exist together anywhere else in the world.
Diamond’s phase III funding will allow the facility to expand to 33 beamlines; there are currently 24 in operation. This means that it is imperative to use up the remaining space with beamlines that will advance the cause of science, and make the best use of the synchrotron’s impressive light. For Burkhard and his team, years of hard work and waiting have come to fruition as his new beamline, I08, has now been used for the first time.
As PBS, Burkhard has been involved from the beginning of the project. Since then, he and his team have been managing the construction of the beamline for over three years, watching it grow into a cutting-edge facility. I08 offers a very broad photon energy range, meaning that a considerable variety of chemical elements can be studied on the beamline. The beamline also offers a multiple detection scheme for high-resolution imaging using absorption, differential phase and darkfield contrasts, elemental mapping by micro X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and analysing the chemical states by near-edge X-ray absorption fine-structure spectroscopy (NEXAFS), meaning that more data can be captured with each experiment with lateral resolutions down to 20nm in some imaging modes, or elemental sensitivities down to one in a million atoms. Another important feature of this facility is that specimens can be investigated in standard user operation at liquid nitrogen temperatures, which helps to preserve the morphology of radiation sensitive materials at very high X-ray photon fluxes.
Although each of these individual features exists on other beamlines and in other facilities internationally, having them all together in I08 makes it the only facility of its kind the world over. Burkhard is understandably proud of what his beamline offers: “Creating this beamline has been a real team effort, and it is hugely exciting for all of us who have been involved to see it come into operation a full year ahead of schedule.” He continues: “So much work has gone into creating this excellent facility, I am confident I08 will provide scientists with services that are world-leading. All this would not have been possible without the excellent teamwork at Diamond. I wish to use this exciting moment to express my deepest thanks to all who contributed to this project.”
I08’s first users are a group from the London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL. The first users stress-tested the beamline by applying novel phase-sensitive X-ray imaging techniques to the study of chromosomes undergoing mitosis: the process by which cells divide into two genetically identical daughter cells. Whilst the double-helix structure of DNA is already known to scientists, there is still a lot to learn about the nanoscale structure. It has not so far been possible to view the structure of chromosomes at a really minute level, but I08 may provide the tools necessary to observe biological matter in never-before-seen detail. As such, this new avenue of research could provide a better understanding of mitosis and potentially impact on treatments for genetic diseases.
The principal investigator of the UCL team, Dr. Graeme Morrison, describes the group’s excitement at being the first scientists to make use of Diamond’s new beamline: “The combination of capabilities this facility provides is entirely unique, and it may open up new avenues of research that were not possible before.” Graeme was one of the main proposers of the Diamond Scanning X-ray Microscopy project and is Chair of the I08 User Working Group. Professor Ian Robinson, group leader of the UCL team adds: “We have shopped around for the best imaging facilities, and there are lot of reasons to be optimistic about what I08 can provide. We are honoured to be the first users.”
I08 is not limited to biological research, the facility is optimised for science from a broad range of applications, including environmental and earth science, geochemistry, biology and biotechnology, medicine and pharmacology, and material sciences.
Burkhard comments: “I am delighted to get back into the heart of scientific research. Diamond attracts some of the world’s best minds and most innovative research. What we do here helps to bring about real benefits to society, and it is extremely gratifying to be a part of that. But we do not stop here and will intensify now our work on building a novel soft X-ray diffraction microscope that complements the I08 scanning X-ray microscope and will bring the beamline even further.”
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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