WITH its infra-red beams and high-speed technology, it looks like something out of a James Bond film.

But the £260m Diamond Light Source synchrotron, on the Harwell Campus near Didcot, has roots 100 years old that were celebrated in all their glory yesterday.

As it marks its centenary, scientists say they are planning to build ten new beams that are 10 billion times brighter than the sun.

In 1913, father and son William and Lawrence Bragg discovered that by exposing crystals to X-rays, they could use the pattern produced to reveal exactly how the atoms were arranged.

That scientific principle has made possible much of the research that today takes place at the world-renowned centre.

To mark the celebration, Dr John Jenkin, the biographer of the British scientific duo, gave a lecture, while Professor Thomas Sorensen, principal beamline scientist at the science facility, spoke about the importance of X-ray crystallography to modern-day scientists.

Professor Sorensen said: “Bragg’s law gave us the opportunity to literally shed light on things we couldn’t see before.

“It has helped us to understand what a virus looks like, how cells work together and how things are broken down and rebuilt.

“Without it we wouldn’t have been able to get the level of detail we needed to develop safer vaccines like the one against foot and mouth – last seen in the UK in 2001.”

Bragg’s Law, devised in the wake of the discovery, led to the two men being awarded the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.

It was the founding principle of X-ray crystallography which is still the primary technique used to look at the atomic structure of materials and for designing pharmaceuticals against specific diseases.

Breakthrough research at Diamond using X-ray crystallography have included developing safer vaccines and finding the root cause of a medical problem that endangers the lives of pregnant women.

Professor Sorensen, who lives in Culham and has worked at Diamond for eight years, said the plans for the future were to build a further ten beam lines.

These intense beams of light produce beams 10 billion times brighter than the sun and allow scientists to study materials in unrivalled detail.

He hoped these would be completed by 2018, which would bring the number of beam lines at the facility to 32.

More than 3,000 researchers use the Diamond Light Source, which today has a team of 438.




The Facility

THE Diamond Light Source at Harwell is known for pioneering scientific breakthroughs.
More than 3,000 researchers across a range of disciplines are using Diamond.
The Diamond Light Source was officially opened by the Queen in October, 2007 and was the biggest science facility built in the UK for three decades, covering the area of five football pitches.
It was the county’s biggest investment in science for more than 40 years and is funded by the UK Government through the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and by the Wellcome Trust.
Diamond Light Source generates extremely intense pin-point beams of synchrotron light. Its X-rays are around 100 billion times brighter than a standard
hospital X-ray machine.