Diamond Dazzles for the Year of Light

The UK’s synchrotron celebrates the power of light in science and research

Image The UK’s synchrotron celebrates the power of light in science and research

An impressive opening ceremony in Paris marks the beginning of the United Nations International Year of Light (IYL 2015). The year will celebrate the vital part that light plays in science and culture, and highlight the ways in which light impacts on our everyday lives, particularly through advances in medicine, technology, and engineering.

Humanity has depended on light for discovery since the dawn of time. With fire, early humans were able to explore dark corners of the world, hunt by night, and protect themselves from predators. In a sense, we’ve been using light for similar purposes ever since. It’s just that those dark corners and barriers to survival have become fewer and more complex. These days, we’re still just as dependent on light to help us overcome challenges presented by the modern world; but it’s no longer hunters who carry the torch, it’s scientists.
The relationship between science and light goes back centuries. In the mid-17th century, Robert Hook published Micrographia, a historic book which contained drawings of the world as seen through a very novel tool: the microscope. This invention used light to allow the viewer to see things that had never been seen before. By the 19th century, scientists were learning to harness light for new and exciting research. Michael Faraday’s work on magnetism and electricity revolutionised our understanding of physics, whilst William Röntgen’s work on X-rays gave scientists a new tool for scientists to exploit. By 1980, the world’s first synchrotron was built at Daresbury, Cheshire. This pioneering machine produced special kinds of light – X-rays, ultraviolet and infrared – for use in scientific experiments.
Storage ring sextupole magnets
Storage ring sextupole magnets
And that brings us right up to the present day. A huge ring-shaped structure, Diamond Light Source accelerates electrons in a circuit until they are travelling at near light speeds. This causes the electrons to produce a brilliant light, 10 billion times brighter than the sun. Scientists then use this light to study the atomic structure of matter; they can use the facility to research new medicines, develop nanotechnology, study advanced materials, and everything in-between.
There are over 40 synchrotrons around the world, visited by hundreds of thousands of scientists each year. Diamond is part of lightsources.org, an international collaboration of light sources that promotes the science and technological advances taking place around the globe. These machines demonstrate the vast potential of light to act as a tool for human progress. But it’s not just synchrotrons that have a profound connection to light. In the UK, over 40 individuals and organisations representing science, engineering, culture and the arts will unite in celebration of IYL 2015 through an impactful national programme of events and activities.
Professor Andrew Harrison, Diamond’s CEO, comments: “Diamond will be celebrating with a series of large events and campaigns that will bring together members of the public and the scientific community. The Harwell Campus open day in July will see several thousand visitors visit the science and innovation site in Oxfordshire, where they will have the opportunity to see up close examples of world-leading science and technology, much of which depends on light.”
In March, Diamond will also be taking part in special events at the Oxford Science Festival and the ATOM science festival in Abingdon, designed to engage people with the cutting-edge science that’s taking place nationally and around the world. Diamond will also be running competitions for schools on the theme of light, and major research will be presented at the AAAS science meeting in California on 13th February.
Andrew comments “Light has changed the world time and time again, but the story is not over yet. There is still room for improvement in harnessing the full potential of light to explore the structure and properties of materials and the molecules on which life depends. IYL 2015 is a celebration of how far we’ve come and a look forward the future, at the pioneering science and technology that is paving the way for new discoveries. With a vast array of events and activities ahead, it promises to be a dazzling year for Diamond.”
Lightsources.org is a Founding Partner of the International Year of Light.
Learn more at www.light2015.org