June 21st, 2012
Speeding electrons, nits and chocolate were all part of the research when Lower Sixth Physicists visited Diamond Light Source, the UK’s synchrotron radiation facility in Oxfordshire. Diamond is a particle accelerator using electrons at an energy of 3 GeV, travelling near light speed around a 560m storage ring. Magnets bend the electrons’ path, generating brilliant beams of electromagnetic radiation ranging from infra-red to X-ray wavelengths. These are used by over 2000 academic and industrial researchers working in areas as varied as the structure and properties of materials such as proteins (to provide information for designing new and better drugs), engineering components (such as fan blades from aero-engines) and conservation of archaeological artefacts.
As well as visiting several of the experimental stations known as ‘beamlines’, where they could ask questions of the designers and researchers, the students were able to take a rare glimpse inside the giant storage ring, which is usually out of bounds when the facility is operational. To celebrate Diamond’s 10th anniversary, students were also treated to a Science Fair in the giant Atrium, where they had a chance to discuss work determining how earthworms survive toxic environments, see a nit comb from Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose and build crystal shapes out of Maltesers.