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Last week, the Dual Imaging And Diffraction (DIAD) beamline welcomed Dr David Collins from the University of Birmingham as the very first user. The team planned a series of experiments to fully take advantage of the first beamline worldwide that can simultaneously perform X-ray imaging and diffraction.
David is studying a biomedical stent that is used to restore blood flow in blocked arteries. DIAD presents a unique opportunity to study how the geometry of the stent changes under different pressures and link this directly to changes at the sub-crystal scale. This important work will help to produce stents that are perfectly tailored to the different stresses that can be placed on them while sitting for years inside the human body. Ultimately this will mean stents fail less often and treatments will be more reliable.
David explained why DIAD will be especially useful for his research. He said:
What is unique about DIAD is that you have two techniques that can be used simultaneously whereas normally you would have to choose one technique per experiment. Now with DIAD, you can do X-ray Imaging giving you a large-scale image and combine it with X-ray diffraction giving you detail at the sub-crystal scale. Probing two different length scales simultaneously means that you can monitor the very big and the very small at the same time. This opens doors to do many new and exciting experiments that could not have been done before.
A lot of my research is on the cusp of understanding what is happening on a large, component led scale and relating that to what is happening on the sub-crystal length scale. Understanding this link means that there is a chance to engineer something at the atomic scale that can improve processes and materials at a larger scale.
The first user at DIAD is a landmark occasion representing years of development. DIAD’s Principal Beamline Scientist, Dr Christina Reinhard, explained:
The DIAD project came from the scientific need to obtain 3D microstructure at the same time as local information about the phase composition and the strain state of the material, ideally at the same time.
At other beamlines, such as I12, you can do imaging and diffraction experiments, but they can’t be done simultaneously, the end station needs to be modified. That is where DIAD was born, and it was a challenging journey. To perform imaging and diffraction simultaneously we split the X-ray beam in two and each beam goes through its own series optics before they need to be perfectly aligned again at the sample position. This presented a set of technical and logistical challenges, the solutions to which make DIAD truly unique.
Incorporating two experiments in DIAD required advanced engineering and software, from robot arms moving detectors to automating experiments and analysis. This has been made possible thanks to a huge effort from the engineering, software, optics, planning, facilities and support teams and their help and support was critical in reaching the first user milestone.
Finalising the construction of a beamline during the COVID-19 pandemic deserves special recognition for the team. Strict limits on the number of people who could be on site meant that creative solutions had to be found to tricky logistical challenges.
I’m so proud of how the whole team came together. Under COVID restrictions, many beamlines were able to operate using small teams. However, building a beamline normally requires a lot of people to work together at the same time. This created novel challenges for the beamline project and it was inspiring to see how the team overcame them. It really would not have been possible without everyone’s hard work and dedication and I would like to thank everyone for that. I’m really looking forward to starting user experiments and get the science up and running. DIAD has applications in many different fields from medicine to battery research.
The diversity of cutting-edge research that will be done here makes it a very exciting beamline and I can’t wait to open it up to the wider community and eventually welcome users to Diamond in person again.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 restrictions also mean that David Collins and his team have not been able to physically visit Diamond to perform the experiments, although he has been in close contact with the beamline team. David explained the challenge:
A big part of doing an experiment is that you don’t really know the outcome because you’re doing something that’s new, so in some ways you need to be quite reactive and change small details of the experiment as you go. But I’ve been working with the beamline staff for more than ten years and we’ve collaborated on several projects, so these are all people I know really well and people that I trust. It’s a big privilege to be the first user. It’s always lovely to be thought of as someone who can be trusted to do something that’s going to work and be successful.
As an academic, you always want to be the first to do new things and use new techniques and that adds to the sense of privilege because I know that whatever data we generate, there will be something there that nobody has ever seen before.
Professor Andrew Dent, Diamond Sponsor of the DIAD project, congratulated the team. He said:
It has been an amazing project and when the pandemic hit nearly 1 year ago it was clear the date of first user in July would not be possible. However it has been fantastic to see how everyone has worked around the difficult situations to continue with completing and commissioning the beamline, and performing the first experiment now is an incredible achievement.
DIAD is part-funded by the University of Birmingham through a collaboration that was set up in 2016.
Professor Laurent Chapon, Physical Sciences Director at Diamond, said:
The collaboration with Birmingham University has been very fruitful in the face of many challenges but this beamline is going to be a tremendous asset for the user community. The team is looking forward to welcoming users with the best scientific questions as part of our next call for proposals to be prioritised by our international peer review to prioritise the measurements it can deliver.
Professor Alison Davenport, Materials Professor of Corrosion Science and Head of School of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham, said:
I’m delighted to see our original vision for the DIAD beamline being realised. It has been a wonderful experience working with Diamond on this highly innovative project. We will now be able to watch complex structures changing with time, and choose where and when to make local measurements of changing chemistry or mechanical strain. This will open up great opportunities for studying local features in a great variety of samples including batteries, growing plants, medical devices and corroding metals.
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