An aerial view of Diamond Light Source in April 2005. Credit: Diamond Light Source
Among the gently rolling hills of the Oxfordshire countryside is a giant doughnut-shaped building of steel and concrete. Inside is a machine capable of producing beams of light 10 billion times brighter than the sun. Built on the renowned Harwell Science and Innovation Campus near Didcot, Diamond Light Source - or Diamond for short - is the UK's national synchrotron, a machine able to produce extremely bright light.
The result of collaboration between the Wellcome Trust and the UK Government, Diamond Light Source opened its doors to scientists in 2007. The synchrotron contains three particle accelerators that are used to produce extremely bright X-rays, infrared and ultraviolet light - so-called 'synchrotron light'. Electrons are accelerated around the large 'storage ring' to just under the speed of light. When passed through strong electromagnetic fields, the electrons give out the synchrotron light, and the light can be transferred into one of the experimental laboratories (or beamlines) found at points along the ring.
The applications of the synchrotron are many and wide ranging. Diamond's 'super microscopes' have been put to use by a variety of researchers working in several fields - everything from agriculture to engineering and from mineral exploration to forensics.