The University of Manchester, the University of Liverpool and Diamond Light Source will be revealing new findings at the prestigious Royal Society Summer Exhibition in July, with an exhibit that showcases cutting-edge research into volcanoes, batteries and ice cream.
The exhibition – which draws in thousands of visitors every year – is an exploration of advanced science and state of the art technology. The free, week-long event takes place between 4th
July at The Royal Society in London
and will feature talks, activities and over 20 separate exhibits
from the UK’s leading science groups.
The exhibition will focus on a technique known as ‘tomography’ and will draw together research currently being undertaken by scientists from Manchester, Liverpool and Unilever. Tomography is used in many fields, from archaeology to medical research. The technique allows scientists to build up a 3D picture of an object’s internal structure using a series of X-rays – much like a medical CT scan.
Diamond generates incredibly bright beams of X-rays. The advanced facility allows scientists to take a full 3D picture about once a second, creating a 3D ‘movie’ depicting how the inside of materials change with time: it is this process that we call 4D Science.
Professor Peter Lee, (Acting Director, Research Complex at Harwell) whose group is presenting from Manchester, said: “We’re delighted to be showcasing this exciting field of 4D science to the public. Medical CT has helped improve our understanding of medical problems; now synchrotron tomography is allowing us to see inside materials under conditions as extreme as those found inside a jet engine 10km above us, or those that exist inside a magma chamber 2km below the surface of the earth.
“4D science is opening up all kinds of new information, from showing us how batteries fail to potentially improving predictions of volcanic eruptions.
“We’re here to tell people up and down the country about some of the frontline work that’s currently taking place using this technique. The 4D Science exhibit will provide a first look at research that could help to provide next-generation consumer technology, early disaster warning systems and even tastier ice cream!”
Diamond is able to support research such as this by providing scientists with the tools they need to explore matter on the microstructural and atomic scale. The machine is comparable to a giant microscope. It accelerates electrons to nearly the speed of light, causing the particles to produce intense beams of light 10 billion times brighter than the sun – scientists then use this light to learn more about the world at the smallest scales.
Prof Lee notes: “Thousands of members of the public are expected to visit the Royal Society Exhibition this July. We’ll be there to highlight the pioneering research scientists are involved in, and to demonstrate how mastering the microstructure of materials can help to improve lives around the world.”
Volcanoes, batteries and ice cream: the research in depth
An extraordinary range of research takes place every day at Diamond Light Source, and tomography is just one of the pioneering techniques on offer at the synchrotron. But tomography is a particularly versatile tool for investigating matter, and it is generating discoveries in a broad range of different research.
Current Diamond research is using tomography to explore the behaviour of lithium ion batteries at the microscopic scale, teaching us more about why they fail. Computers and smart phones often lose power over time and require more regular charging to function.
Scientists at Diamond are exploring the link between battery failure and the gradual growth of lithium deposits inside a battery. By seeing how these deposits develop over time deep inside an otherwise opaque battery, scientists hope to learn how to prevent the process and improve battery life and safety in consumer technology.
Tomography is also helping us to investigate the physical processes behind volcanic eruptions. Scientists at Manchester have used Diamond to replicate conditions found 2km below the surface of the earth. Under these conditions, scientists from Liverpool and Cambridge can study gas bubbles and fractures inside magma as it rises to the surface.
Prof. Yan Lavallee, a leading Volcanologist at the University of Liverpool notes: “Using Diamond Light Source and the magma flow simulator developed by Manchester, we are gaining all new insights into how water vapour bubbles form in magma and how they can be released via fracturing. Understanding how these bubbles and fractures form should help us in the future to better predict if a volcano might erupt explosively, or not.”
Therefore, understanding the behaviour of magma at the smallest scale could help us to better forecast volcanic eruptions. Over 700 million people live within the eruption range of an active volcano, and better predictions of dangerous natural phenomena may save lives by providing people with more time to get to safety.
On top of saving lives and smart phone batteries, tomography could also help us to enjoy better ice cream. Scientists at Manchester and Unilever are using Diamond to investigate the formation of microscopic ice crystals that grow inside ice cream over time.
These projects will be presented to the public at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, along with a range of hands-on activities and challenges designed to engage visitors with some of the most cutting-edge science currently taking place the world over.