Diamond celebrates 10th anniversary

Materials World magazine
1 Jan 2018

Diamond Light Source celebrated its tenth anniversary in late 2017. Khai Trung Le looks back at how the synchrotron helped advance materials science.

In late October 2017, Diamond Light Source, the UK national synchrotron, marked 10 years since its official opening. First light was achieved in May 2006, accelerating electrons to near light-speed, generating light beams across the electromagnetic spectrum that were strengthened and channelled into experimental research stations, called beamlines. In 2007, Diamond had seven beamlines and 100 staff members. Now, Diamond features 31 beamlines and over 600 staff. Over 6,000 papers have been authored with Diamond information, with many contributing to Nobel prize winners work and being recognised for numerous scientific achievements.

The centre has been involved in some of the most significant discoveries of modern times, including understanding how viruses including rabies and Ebola replicate, and visualising brain cancer markers. The synchrotron’s value to materials science has also been ground-breaking, including key work in energy storage, aerospace materials and historic conservation.

Safe aerospaces

Research teams working with aerospace materials have long recognised the advantages of synchrotron light, including Alexander Korsunsky, Professor of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, UK, and Peter Lee, Professor of Synchrotron X-ray Imaging at the University of Manchester, UK.

Lee has created systems that replicate extreme conditions to observe superalloy aerospace components during manufacture. While this would typically require the superalloy to move through manufacturing – including melting, casting, machining, heat treatment and electron microscopy – the use of what Diamond refers to as 4D imaging is able to analyse the superalloy as it is being manufactured. Information on microstructure forms, the kinetics of the processes and impact of engineering processes can be gathered in real time, eliminating trial and error.

Korsunsky said, ‘Synchrotron radiation provides a unique capability for non-destructive measurement of strain and stress evaluation inside objects. We have learned to visualise the internal structure and cracks and defects in 3D, to quantify elastic and plastic deformation, and ultimately to understand the origins of the strength and weakness of materials.’

Charged with battery

Dr Paul Shearing, a lecturer in Chemical Engineering at University College London, UK, has worked with Diamond since 2010, exploring fuel cells using Beamlines I11, I12 and I18 in collaboration with partners including NASA and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, USA. Together they work on using batteries in challenging environments. Shearing said, ‘Recently, we used the high-speed X-ray imaging capability at I12 to image the nucleation of failure within a working battery and see at very high speed how that failure can then propagate through an individual cell, and from one cell to another in a pack environment. By using the unique imaging capability across a relatively large sample, we can see the exact mechanism by which the failure starts, how it spreads and design systems to prevent the spread of that failure.’

Shearing sees Diamond as entrenched in the development of future energy storage systems, celebrating the various capabilities of its beamlines. ‘Diamond is uniquely placed to look at all the different length-scales from the crystallography at I11, the nanoprobe experiments we will do at I14, the microimaging at I13, to the pack-level imaging we can do at I12. Bringing these together will be hugely informative in designing the next generation of batteries.’

Preserving the Mary Rose

Henry VIII’s warship, the Mary Rose, was first raised out of the water in October 1982, and Diamond has been involved with its research effort since 2008, when the conservation team wanted to glean how sulphur and iron compounds were distributed and how they interacted in individual cells in the wood. With the ship now drying out, Diamond has been involved in analysing the success of the Mary Rose Trust’s conservation efforts and the impact of oxygen on the ship with the use of the B18 beamline. By using X-ray absorption spectroscopy to reveal certain elements that fluoresce when exposed to X-ray light, the Mary Rose Trust was able to monitor levels of sulphur, potential oxidation and acid build up as the ship dries.

Eleanor Schofield, Conservation Manager at the Mary Rose Trust, said, ‘Time at Diamond is crucial to monitoring the progress of the ship. People often ask me what science has to do with the Mary Rose, and the answer is everything. Facilities like Diamond allow us to find ways of conserving ancient artefacts. We need the detail Diamond offers because this process often starts at the cellular and molecular level.’

Diamond will be involved in the Mary Rose Trust’s new project, analysing the 1,200 cannon balls collected from the wreckage to determine the most efficient conservation strategies.

Changing the face of science

Although the majority of Diamond users are involved in academia, with over 8,000 user visits in 2017 alone, CEO Andrew Harrison has long acknowledged the need to keep the synchrotron freely accessible. Harrison said, ‘Recognising that the public ultimately pay the taxes that underpin 86% of our funding, we have regularly opened our doors to the public, allowing them to see our incredible science and engineering, but more importantly to meet the scientists and engineers working with and for Diamond. Since our opening in 2007, we have welcomed over 60,000 visitors.’ Access extends to industry. Over 100 companies have conducted proprietary projects in 25 Diamond beamlines, facilities and laboratories. 

Traditionally, a tenth anniversary would be met with a gift of tin or aluminium, but in recent times has been supplanted by diamond. When the Diamond Project was first formed in 2002 by the UK Government, the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils and the Wellcome Trust, change was also part of the project’s agenda – Diamond was described as a facility destined to change the face of science. The synchrotron aims to have 33 beamlines operational by 2020, as well as upgrades to the donut-shaped facility to a half-kilometre circumference that should enable a more powerful light, and future research, to shine