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"Diamond" light source opens for business

07 Feb 2007

A £250 m synchrotron light source - the largest scientific facility to have been built in the UK for 30 years - has now opened its doors to researchers.

The first scientists to use the Diamond Light Source – a "third-generation" synchrotron near Oxford, UK – are arriving at the facility this week. Diamond will provide researchers with monochromatic beams of light at wavelengths ranging from microwaves to X-rays.

Light from Diamond is emitted by electrons as they are steered by powerful electromagnets around a ring with a circumference of 560 metres. The lab's beams are 100,000 times brighter than those from the UK's Synchrotron Radiation Source in Daresbury - the "second-generation" facility that it replaces. Such high brightnesses have been made possible by "undulators" inserted into straight sections of the ring, which make the electrons wiggle about their otherwise straight trajectory.

Three teams of researchers have been selected to carry out the first experiments as part of a six-month project to fine tune Diamond's experimental facilities. They include Chris Binns, head of condensed-matter physics at the University of Leicester, who will use Diamond's nanoscience beamline to image magnetic materials that could be used to make better computer hard drives. He will be using the beamline's "photoemission electron microscope", which he says will be "an invaluable tool in trying to understand how these new magnetic materials work".

Diamond currently has 7 beamlines, while a further £120m of funding has already been secured to build another 15 beamlines that will come on stream by 2011. Eventually there could be up to 40 beamlines on the machine. About 10% of beam time will be sold to industrial users. However, beam time is likely to be oversubscribed despite the machine running 24 hours a day.

Although Diamond has been built on time and to budget, the facility got off to a difficult start with a bitter controversy about whether it should be build at its current site or at the Daresbury lab. The French government also expressed an interest in co-funding the project, but decided in 2000 to build its own Soleil source near Paris. The Soleil lab was officially opened at the end of December.

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