In an unprecedented step forward, Diamond recently unveiled the world’s first experimental facility that allows users to carry out synchrotron experiments over months and even years. The Long Duration Experimental facility (LDE) makes it possible for scientists to scrutinise changes in the properties and behaviour of materials that take place in situ over an extended period of time.
Unlike the other beamlines at Diamond, where experiments take place over hours or days, visitors to the High Resolution Powder Diffraction (I11) beamline’s LDE facility are granted time in slots of six months up to two years. Samples are set up within tailored environments and measured each week – this allows researchers to assess their samples’ long term behaviour as it is likely to occur in its natural or processing state.
A range of sample environments are available or can be custom built, and the LDE facility is capable of running multiple different experiments in sequence. There are a number of areas of research that stand to really benefit from the launch of this facility; in particular, studies in the fields of gas storage, fuel cells, seasonal World’s first long duration synchrotron experiment effects, corrosion science, and electrical power cycling all relate to effects observed in situ over lengthy periods of time.
In the first round of experiments, Diamond’s new LDE facility will be used to explore geochemical processes in cold, aqueous environments; to measure pharmaceutical stability; and to determine the long term performance of batteries. Radioactive waste disposal is another key area in which the new capabilities could prove vital.
Dr Claire Corkhill and colleagues from the Immobilisation Science Laboratory at the University of Sheffield were the first to use the pioneering LDE facility on I11. Having been granted a two year timeslot, the team are using the new capabilities to investigate the hydration of cements used by the nuclear industry for the storage of waste, performing in situ measurements throughout the 24 months.
Dr Corkhill comments: “When water is added to cement, the minerals within the cement powder slowly hydrate in a process that can take anywhere up to 50 years. It is very important to understand the rate at which hydration occurs so we can predict the behaviour of cements in the long term. This is extremely important for cements used in nuclear waste disposal, because we need the cement to keep the radioactive waste contained for more than 100,000 years. The unique facilities at Diamond will enable us to follow this reaction in situ, for the first time, for a period of months to years.”
In this instance, the support of the LDE facility will prove particularly vital. Being able to predict the behaviour of materials over time and in situ is central to identifying long-term radioactive waste disposal solutions. Indeed, the outcome of this work will inform future UK nuclear waste disposal and storage policy.
Professor Chiu Tang is Principal Beamline Scientist on I11, and key coordinator of the LDE facility. He comments: “Thanks to the great effort from our support groups and beamline team, the facility has been delivered ahead of schedule. It is a very exciting time for us to implement the first LDE experiments and to see users obtaining results already, for example, the slow detailed changes in cements during initial dehydration and the exposure of pharmaceutical compounds to dry and humid environments.”
The world’s first synchrotron LDE facility is one of a host of advanced new capabilities being unveiled at Diamond. In 2017, it will be joined by Diamond’s new X-ray nanoprobe beamline and pioneering electron microscopy facility; currently under construction, this facility will provide a hub for cutting-edge materials and life science research. Between 2015-2018, eight new beamlines are expected to come online, along with multiple upgrades to existing beamlines. With facilities like the LDE, Diamond is constantly pushing the boundaries of what scientific technology can do, providing world-leading resources for users.
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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