It’s not just conditions on Earth that I15 can recreate; some users on the beamline want to study environments that are literally out of this world. Dr Ross Howie is the team leader for a University of Edinburgh research project exploring the conditions on two of Saturn’s icy moons, Dione and Rhea, which are freezing masses of solid ice, surrounded by a weak oxygen atmosphere. Ross is using I15 to explore the interaction between oxygen and water on the planet, and the clues that this provides about the moons’ brutal environments and whether life could ever exist there.
Ross also uses a diamond anvil cell to recreate the pressure levels within Dione and Rhea. This device is able to create enough pressure on the liquid water and oxygen to force them to chemically react and form a solid, known as a clathrate hydrate. It is this material that may exist within the icy mass of the moons. Ross then uses I15 to determine the atomic structure of this material. In this way, he can uncover complex information about the composition of celestial objects from hundreds of millions of miles away.
From the centre of the Earth to outer space, I15 recreates environments that humans could never otherwise access. The Extreme Conditions Beamline enables users to explore the behaviour of materials under extreme circumstances in astonishing, atomic detail; and in this way, it affords scientists the opportunity to overcome the most hostile conditions, to surmount ice and fire, and to attempt to make the unknown known.