Science at Diamond spans a vast remit of research areas, from finding future technologies to preserving our ancient past. See how synchrotron science can be used in the following areas, or explore our latest news and beamline pages to shine a light on world-changing research.
Synchrotron light has a wide range of applications in chemical research. Solid state chemistry is beginning to be explored under extreme conditions, revealing new polymeric and framework forms of various compounds. Extreme conditions experiments have great potential for new solid state chemistry to predict new materials and their properties.
Much of the research effort in the synthetic chemistry, materials and pharmaceutical sciences, within both academia and industry, are underpinned by small-molecule single-crystal X-ray diffraction techniques. The determination of an accurate crystal structure is a crucial factor not only in the characterisation of a new compound but it is also a crucial factor for our understanding of the properties of a material. Single-crystal diffraction remains the favoured method for determining the accurate structure of crystalline materials but when suitable single-crystals can not be grown powder-diffraction techniques offer a powerful alternative. They also offer the advantage that structural changes due to variations in temperature, pressure or some in situ chemical process can be readily tracked, which would be either too technically difficult or too time-consuming with single-crystal techniques.
The potential of microfocus X-ray spectroscopy is largely unexplored in chemistry. Sub-micron beams can give fundamental insights into a wide range of important chemical reactions and ultra-dilute systems, enhancing the study of reactions at solid interfaces and solid/liquid interfaces, and lead to the development of improved materials through studies of ceramic and composite materials.
X-ray rheology experiments can improve the understanding of food gels for example, and lead to the manufacture of better-designed polymers and more efficient production technology.
Simultaneous small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) and mechanical testing allow the study of the microstructural changes that occur on deformation of polymers. By studying the behaviour of the material at different stages of degradation we are able to map the relationships between microstructure, degradation and ultimate mechanical response. This enables rational design of microstructure for desired properties.
Synchrotrons are increasingly useful in Earth Science applications. The high energy X-rays enable the study of the physics and chemistry taking place in the extreme conditions that occured during the formation of the solar system and in the interior of planets. Microfocus spectroscopy on samples such as meteorites and comet dust provide information on the environment in which they formed. Powder diffraction studies enable the mineralogical community to investigate the behaviour of naturally occurring materials and the subtle responses of known structures to changes in temperature, applied stress and chemical variations.
Synchrotron based techniques have also made a major impact in the field of environmental science in the last ten years. High resolution allows the study of ultra-dilute substances, the identification of species and the ability to track pollutants as they move through the environment. Diamond is playing an important role in monitoring and predicting the effects of human activities on local and global environments. This knowledge will enable the development of strategies to reduce our overall environmental impact.
Facilities unique in the world are available for the detailed study of engineering and manufacturing. Diamond’s X-ray beams allow for detailed analysis and modelling of strain, cracks and corrosion as well as in situ study of materials during production processing. This research is vital to the development of high performance materials and their use in innovative products and structures.
Currently some 15% of Diamond’s overall papers have an interest in this area and this is growing. This includes important battery work and vital enhancements in the use of catalysts for example. Catalysis is estimated to be involved in 90% of all chemical processes and in the creation of 60% of the chemical products available on the market, but still it is rarely analysed at the atomic scale. The need to understand catalysis at this level is driven by both economic, zero-carbon and environmental concerns; therefore, there is a global interest in optimising the synthesis of new catalytic materials and in understanding the fundamental process of catalysis. Diamond provides specialist analytical techniques for the atomic to microscale characterisation of various catalytic materials and the in-situ study of catalytic processes. Nanoscale microscopy, electron microscopy and Nano X-ray diffraction are complementary techniques to study next-generation photovoltaic materials such as perovskites at the atomic scale, revealing their molecular properties.
Pharmaceutical companies and academic researchers are making increasing use of macromolecular crystallography. Improvements in the speed of data collection and solving structures mean that it is now possible to obtain structural information on a timescale that allows chemists and structural biologists to work together in the development of promising compounds into drug candidates.
Membrane proteins are estimated to represent up to 30% of the gene products of a typical genome, and are of considerable interest to the pharmaceutical industry (almost 50% of drug compounds in clinical use are targeted at membrane proteins). The microfocus MX beamline I24 and the onsite Membrane Protein Laboratory enable structural studies of this challenging group of proteins.
Non-crystalline diffraction studies are vital to gaining a better understanding of activities such as protein denaturation, emulsification and phase separation, binding and unbinding, and the control of interfaces. Some diseases involve a change in the fold of a protein, so that the protein becomes pathogenic (for example Creutzfeld-Jacob-Desease (CJD), Alzheimer's Disease, BSE).
Circular dichroism is a spectroscopic technique which enables the study of molecular interactions - an exponentially growing area in the field of structure-function relationships of biologically important molecules. Infrared microspectroscopy allows not only molecular identification but also spatial resolution, which is necessary to the understanding of the physical-chemical properties of the vast range of materials and surfaces that are organised on a microstructural level. These include biomedical samples like tissue and or single cells that can be mapped in plots showing molecular composition versus position by IR imaging technique.
To discuss possible life science experiments at Diamond, please contact Martin Walsh.
Physical science research transforms our understanding of the world at the atomic and planetary levels. For instance, unlocking the secrets of superconductivity allowed MRI scanning to revolutionise healthcare, whilst understanding the quantum world led to the development of the transistor, computers and lasers and is nowadays unearthing ever more subtle sides of nature promising dissipationless electronics and quantum computing. Basic research in physical sciences is then a key driver of productivity and economic growth providing solutions to the health, environmental and technological challenges facing our society today.
For instance, the resonant soft X-ray scattering beamline (I10) has been used to understand the topological properties of skyrmions, while Inelastic X-ray Scattering (I21) has already performed groundbreaking experiments measuring orbital excitations, magnon dispersion and electron-phonon coupling in several highly-correlated systems. More generally, magnetic research at Diamond can demonstrate how polarised X-ray science can uncover dramatic changes in the magnetic properties of materials from subtle changes to the geometric and electronic structure.
Techniques such as Angle Resolved Photoelectron Spectroscopy (ARPES) and hard X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (HAXPES) are used for studying bulk electronic structures of numerous samples and can be used for in-operando studies.
The chemical selectivity of XAS techniques and the ability to look at short-range order makes them ideal for studying the critical role of dopants in semiconductors. Semiconducting devices are often only a few nanometers thick and hence are measured in grazing incidence (B18). XAS can also track distortions to strongly correlated electron systems with high accuracy thanks to its sensitivity to changes in the geometry of the atomic configuration. Of particular interest for these studies is the combined use of EXAFS and X-ray diffraction (XRD) to simultaneously acquire short and long-range order structural information. In addition, XANES measurements allow us to distinguish between the electronic states of a chosen atomic species.
Determining the properties and morphology of buried layers and interfaces remains an important area in solid-state science. Many of the technological products of materials science are based on thin-film devices, which consist of a series of such layers. Structural studies of in situ processing of semiconducting polymer films is also likely to be an important area of growth in the coming decade.
Diffraction of high-intensity X-ray beams is an ideal technique to study spin, charge and orbital ordering in single crystal samples to understand high temperature superconductivity.
Magnetic contrast in images will be provided by exploiting either circular or linear dichroism. At 10 nm resolution, the nanoscience beamline provides high quality images of the magnetic domains of thin films and multilayers, clusters, exchange-biased films, giant magnetoresistive metals and metal-semiconductor spintronic materials. At higher spatial resolutions it is possible to conduct experiments on individual nanoclusters. Through X-ray PEEM, Diamond’s nanoscience beamline is significantly advancing our understanding of the formation, composition, structure and properties of nanostructures. Spectroscopy on nanosized particles will unravel their electronic and chemical properties which may be dominated by the surface due to a large surface to volume ratio.
Cultural Heritage continues to be a rapidly expanding area of research at synchrotrons. Scientists are using Diamond’s non-destructive techniques to find answers to big questions in palaeontology, archaeology, art history and forensics. Ultimately, this work will advance our understanding of the past, to ensure our cultural heritage is better preserved for future generations. Tourism is one of the largest industries in the UK, currently growing at a faster annual rate than the oevrall UK economy and expected to continue to do so until 2025. Protection and preservation of its heritage is pivotal to the long-term performance of this sector. Diamond provides a platform for research into conservation of buildings, paintings and artefacts.
There are a wide range of scientific experiments that can be carried out at Diamond, including forensics, food science, interplanetary physics and oceanography.
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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