Lego takes over at Diamond

The UK’s synchrotron has been immortalised in Lego form

Diamond achieved an exciting first yesterday when staff and their children came together and successfully constructed a replica of the synchrotron machine using over 11,000 pieces of Lego.

The education project involved 50 families and saw each of them taking charge of a section of the Lego particle accelerator under the watchful eyes of the technical experts who built the real machine at Harwell in Oxfordshire.

The finished model is an impressive 5 metres in diameter, and contains miniature versions of many components that make the real synchrotron work, such as the linear accelerator and booster ring, which together accelerate electrons so that they’re travelling at nearly the speed of light.

Diamond Light Source employs over 500 staff and welcomes thousands of visiting scientists each year; these scientists come to use the bright beams that Diamond produces by accelerating electrons. The facility is used for research into everything, from viruses and vaccines, to jet engines and nanotechnology.

The design for the Lego Diamond was masterminded by one of the facility’s own staff, Senior PLC Technician, Paul Amos. The inspiration for the design came from Paul’s young son Harvey, whose curiosity about Diamond spurred Paul to try and explain his work in a novel way. Paul comments:

“My son Harvey and I both have a big love of Lego; Harvey also has an interest in what I do at work. It can be hard to explain what a synchrotron is and what it does to a young person who hasn’t seen anything like it before. So I decided that I could use the Lego Digital Designer to build the synchrotron machine as a means to help me describe how the machine works. We are very excited about seeing my digital Lego storage ring being built in to an actual Lego Model!”

Image: Paul Amos, the brains behind the synchrotron design.

Laura Holland is Public Engagement Manager at Diamond. Upon hearing of Paul’s Lego design, she set about trying to make the model a reality. Laura comments: “It took our engineers and scientists almost 5 years to build Diamond, but we managed to build our model in less than 5 hours. The day was a huge success thanks to all the staff with the detailed preparations and supported the families on the day. Not only did it help the children to learn more about the machine and what we use it for, it was a great way for the children of our staff to find out what mum, dad, aunt or uncle do every day!”

The event attracted local media attention on BBC radio and TV:

As well as the marvellous photo blog from Diamond's very own vacuum technician Bill Nicholls

After a brief period on display in the Diamond atrium, the model will be dismantled so that parts of the Lego machine can be taken to events and festivals around the UK, and displayed for all to see. 2015 is the International Year of Light, so there’s never been a better time to learn about light-based technology like Diamond and the amazing science it supports.

Clockwise from left:  Ruoxi Wang with her father Hongchang Wang, Signe and August Sorensen, Alex Hughes, Peter Christou, and Annie Christou.


Some of Diamond's Lego helpers (from left to right): Mark Basham, Dave Price, Nick Terril, Zoë Cattell, Stefania Mazzorana, Chris Colborne, Ed Rial, and Simon Lay.