This week Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, is celebrating eight years since the UK government, via the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and the Wellcome Trust signed a Joint Venture to build and operate the facility.
The Diamond synchrotron was delivered on time, on budget and to specification when it went into operation at the beginning of 2007 with seven beamlines, hi-tech experimental stations used by UK and international scientists to study matter and material at the scale of atoms and molecules. Since then the facility, which produces intense beams of X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the sun, has produced a wealth of exciting science, with 247 groups of researchers allocated regular beamtime over the past year and 3,000 users of the facility on the books; a clear sign that the community of scientific users is going strong.
In post since the beginning of the project, Prof. Gerd Materlik, Diamond’s Chief Executive, has seen the facility evolve.
“In eight years, the team has achieved so much – from just a handful we have grown to a team of over 400 people, growth in the midst of delivering massively complex projects. The team should be pleased with the leading-edge facilities for science that they have all contributed to. We are now well into the delivery of Phase II, yet again within budget and on track to complete by 2012, which will bring the total up to 22 cutting-edge experimental stations. The 17 beamlines that are currently in operation are delivering excellent results as well as attracting an alternative demographic of users. For example, Diamond’s biomedical applications are drawing many clinicians, oncologists and obstetricians, as well as 13 pharmaceutical companies, to benefit from the unique research facilities we have on offer.”
Prof Gerd Materlik, CEO of Diamond Light Source
|A tetramer of PFV integrase assembled on viral DNA ends (PDB ID 3L2S). Research published in Nature by Imperial College London. The protein molecules are shown as cartoons in green and orange and viral DNA in magenta. Red sticks represent side chains of the invariant active site carboxylates; grey spheres are the essential metal atoms.|
Recent work published in the journal Nature explains how scientists from Imperial College London used Diamond’s X-rays to help solve the structure of a key enzyme found in retroviruses like HIV, a puzzle that scientists have been trying to solve for 20 years. This new discovery could potentially lead to better treatments for the virus. Lead author on the paper, Dr Peter Cherepanov, says, “Regular access to the state-of-the-art life science beamlines at the Diamond Light Source facility allowed us to evaluate a number of crystal forms and to eventually determine the elusive structure. This amazing breakthrough elucidated the assembly of the retroviral integration machinery and the structural basis for the HIV integrase inhibitor action.”
From viruses to new materials, Diamond’s X-rays are being used by scientists from the University of Manchester, who have recently found a clean and green way of making tiny magnets for high tech gadgets – using natural bacteria that have been around for millions of years. The work by a Manchester team of geomicrobiologists paves the way for nanometer-size magnets – used in mobile phones and recording devices – to be made without the usual nasty chemicals and energy intensive methods.
Diamond user, Prof. Richard Pattrick, Professor of Earth Science at Manchester, said, “This is intriguing work that raises the exciting prospect of a biologically friendly, energy-efficient method of producing nanomagnets tailored for different uses.”
Dr Joanna Collingwood, Assistant Professor of Engineering at the University of Warwick School of Engineering and Chair of the Diamond User Committee, is a user of the facility herself, exploiting its X-rays to further our knowledge of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. She says, “Light sources like Diamond provide unique opportunities for an incredibly diverse range of fundamental and applied research. Access is very competitive and the community is avidly waiting for Phase II to be completed and more capacity to be available.”
The latest beamline to go into operation at Diamond is the Joint Engineering Environmental and Processing (JEEP) beamline, a multi-disciplinary facility for a wide range of users, from engineers who are interested in how large products and systems, such as an aircraft wing, cope when exposed to strain, ageing, fatigue etc., to a museum conservator who wants to know more about the origins of ancient artefacts. The large JEEP beamline will use techniques that will allow scientists to look inside large intact objects without having to open them up.
The final five Phase II beamlines are scheduled to be added to Diamond over the next two years, bringing the total number of operational beamlines to 22. Together they will cover a wide range of science; from biology and medicine, to the physical and chemical sciences, through to the environmental and engineering.
Prof Materlik concludes, “We have been pleased with the support of our user community which has clearly had a direct impact on the STFC Prioritisation exercise, and welcome the latest announcement by Lord Drayson that important national facilities like Diamond will receive funding with long term perspective.”
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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