Diamond light, brighter than the sun

Feb 07, 2012 By Penny Bailey
Diamond light, brighter than the sun
The Diamond Light source building at dusk. Credit: Diamond Light Source.

It’s the size of five football pitches and generates light 10 billion times brighter than the sun. As the Diamond Light Source celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, Penny Bailey visits one of the UK’s biggest scientific investments to see how it works.

Imagine that the only thing limiting you is your imagination - that the physical means of achieving what you see in your mind's eye is right in front of you. That, according to Professor Mark Hodson, is how it is for scientists at the Diamond synchrotron in Oxfordshire. With its curving walls, lined with walkways, pipes and colourful, clunky-looking machines and gadgets, it's a sight that wouldn't seem out of place in an early episode of 'Doctor Who'.

From a birds-eye view, Diamond looks like a massive ring doughnut or a spaceship half a kilometre in circumference (roughly the size of five football pitches). In fact, it’s a polygon of 24 straight sides, and its size and shape are dictated by its purpose.

As the name suggests, Diamond is a source of intensely bright light, which can be up to 10 billion times brighter than the sun. And it's not just visible light - Diamond is optimised to produce light with much shorter wavelengths in the form of X-rays and also generates infrared and ultraviolet light invisible to the naked human eye.

Researchers go to the synchrotron to use that brilliantly intense light in much the same way as they use visible light in a microscope or X-rays: to reveal things we can't see. Microscopes work by passing visible (optical) light through an object. The refracted light passes through two lenses that focus it to create an image of the object's microscopic structures, then magnify the image so we can see it. An X-ray machine passes X-rays through an object and captures the image created of its internal tissues on negative film. X-rays reveal the internal composition (tissues) of large objects such as people, and microscopes reveal the innards of tiny objects such as cells that are only a few microns (0.001 mm) in size, too small to be visible to the naked human eye.

The Diamond synchrotron is millions of times bigger than an X-ray machine or a microscope, yet the light it generates enables scientists to see the internal structures of things that are infinitely smaller, such as atoms. Atoms are measured in angstroms: one angstrom (1 Å) is 0.1 of a nanometre (nm), which in turn is one-billionth of a metre. To give you some context, a human hair is 100 000 nm wide and an ant is approximately 5 million nm long.

In trying to look inside an atom, scientists are trying to visualize something that is only 0.1 billionth of a metre big. To distinguish two objects (atoms) that are only 1 Å apart, researchers need to pass a much more intense light through them. They need to use light with far shorter wavelengths than the visible light used in microscopes - either ultraviolet light or X-rays. It's the job of Diamond to produce that light and send it to the 'cabins', the laboratories surrounding the storage ring where the experiments are actually carried out.

Acceleration

How does Diamond create those intense, invisible forms of light? Like CERN in Switzerland, Diamond is a particle accelerator, and it uses very similar technology. Both, as the term suggests, are designed to get particles zipping along at great speed. CERN sends neutrons and protons smashing into each other at speeds approaching the speed of light to understand what particles - and the universe - are made of. Diamond, by contrast, accelerates electrons. It also doesn't smash them into each other, and scientists don't actually do any experiments with the electrons themselves; instead, they use the high speed of the electrons to create intense light to use in their experiments.

The way the electrons are produced in the first place will be familiar to anyone who's ever owned a big, old-fashioned TV. The cathode ray tube in the back of the TV heats up an alloy, causing it to release electrons and fire them at the TV screen, which fluoresces, producing images. Diamond works on a similar principle, although on a much vaster scale.

The bridge over the storage ring of the facility. Credit: Diamond Light Source.

Rather than a screen, the electrons generated by heating an alloy in an electron gun are fired into a sequence of three accelerators. The first is the 30-m long Linac, which increases the speed of electrons from almost no miles per hour to something approaching the speed of light. They then pass into the booster, where they gain energy until they have enough to produce light of the kind and quantity needed to illuminate the atoms the scientists are looking at.

They then pass into the storage ring - the vast 560 m2 tube that gives Diamond its shape and size. It is here that the electron bundles (beams), which travel around the ring roughly half a million times every second, generate synchrotron light and send it into the beamlines leading to the experimental stations (laboratories) surrounding the storage ring.

Magnets at the point of entry to the beamlines bend the speeding electrons around the corners of the polygonal storage ring, which causes them to release energy in the form of light (photons). This light spans the electromagnetic spectrum from infrared to visible and ultraviolet light and X-rays.

Diamond is a 'third-generation' synchrotron, which broadly means that it uses more sophisticated magnets to create more intense light. At the beamline point of entry, 'insertion devices' cause the electron beam to wiggle backwards and forwards between the opposite magnetic poles. This 'constructive interference' produces very bright, very intense beams of X-rays - so intense that safety procedures are stringent. People cannot enter the lead-lined hutches in which the experiments take place when the machine is operating, so experiments are controlled remotely from a separate control cabin.

The power of these X-rays can help reveal the atomic structure of proteins and inorganic elements like metals. Mirrors and crystals help focus the beams down to the wavelength required for each station, which then passes into the experimental hutch where it interacts with the substance the scientists want to 'see', the interaction revealing what it is made of at the atomic level.

Around 2000 research groups a year come to do experiments at Diamond that they could not do anywhere else. Research ranges from solving protein structures to designing drug targets.

Scientists have used the synchrotron's light to look at the nutritional quality of wheat, assess the success of attempts to increase levels of zinc and iron in food, and work out which form of phosphate is best at locking up metal contaminants in soil. iPod and iPad users might be interested to know that the technology on which they are based - giant magneto resistance - wouldn't exist without synchrotrons. With new beamlines coming online in the forthcoming third phase of Diamond's development, new possibilities for research abound to push the limits of scientists' imaginations.

Explore further: Nuclear spins control current in plastic LED: Step toward quantum computing, spintronic memory, better displays

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User comments : 18

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dtyarbrough
1 / 5 (10) Feb 07, 2012
As I state in my theory, electrons and photons are the same particles at different speeds. Their energies and size are proportional to their so-called wavelengths, not frequency. Mass (of particles) is inversely proportional to velocity. Energy remains constant. Scientist believe they are producing a brighter light because they produce x-rays, but the xrays are smaller particles withs billions of times less energy than visible light(opposite of what they believe). The smaller(and less energetic) particles are better suited for imaging atoms and penitrate matter easily. Particles lose mass as velocity increases. This is why photons don't hit us like a cannon ball even though photons do have mass. Particles exhibit energy in the form of spin and/or velocity. Increase spin and velocity reduces and vice versa. Spin creates magnetic fields that adds to the mass of the particle. Read http://www.scribd...universe
dtyarbrough
1 / 5 (10) Feb 07, 2012
As the electrons are accelerated, they lose spin and reduce their magnetic fields. They become less affected by the magnets in the accelerator and can never exceed the speed of light. Doubling the strength of the accelerator energy does not double the speed of the electrons. They smash the smallest of all particles and claim they produce energies beyond that of the sun. Rediculous. X-rays have been produced in a vacuum by peeling scotch tape from a roll.
h0dges
not rated yet Feb 07, 2012
#corrections GMR technology is not used in an iPad.
Vendicar_Decarian
0.9 / 5 (41) Feb 07, 2012
"As I state in my theory, electrons and photons are the same particles at different speeds." - dtvarborough

Has it occurred to you that photons don't carry charge while electrons do?

Apparently not.
Shootist
5 / 5 (5) Feb 07, 2012
As I state in my theory, electrons and photons are the same particles at different speeds.


And you have invalidated Feynman how?
dtyarbrough
1 / 5 (8) Feb 07, 2012
"As I state in my theory, electrons and photons are the same particles at different speeds." - dtyarbrough

"Has it occurred to you that photons don't carry charge while electrons do? Apparently not." - Vendicar Decarian

Neither have charge. Electrons have a stronger field.

dtyarbrough
1 / 5 (7) Feb 07, 2012
"As I state in my theory, electrons and photons are the same particles at different speeds." -dtyarbrough

"And you have invalidated Feynman how?" -Shootist

"and pretty much everyone else that believes that quantum crap.."
Code_Warrior
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 08, 2012
dtyarbrough - where the dt stands for "delusional troll", "dumb theorist", "dreadful tool", and "demented troglodyte".

A modern day descendant of "dipshitlicus totalis", this species is characterized by a low IQ and a large ego. Driven to demonstrate his characteristics, this species prefers the environments of the internet physics message boards and physics article comment threads. Like its close relative, the internet troll, it feeds on the negative comments of other users. When encountering a dipshitlicus totalis, it is best to ignore it. It will eventually go away.
bewertow
5 / 5 (4) Feb 08, 2012
"As I state in my theory, electrons and photons are the same particles at different speeds." - dtyarbrough

"Has it occurred to you that photons don't carry charge while electrons do? Apparently not." - Vendicar Decarian

Neither have charge. Electrons have a stronger field.



Not sure if trolling, or just extremely stupid...
kochevnik
5 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2012
electrons and photons are the same particles
Except one has unit spin while the other has 1/2 spin. Nice try.
Cynical1
1 / 5 (3) Feb 08, 2012
Troll or not, it DOES beg the question. So, are they the same thing - with different characteristics? Csn anyone say - (empirically) they cannot be?
They both travel at the speed of light, don't they? Is an electron MAYBE (just musing here) just a photon with spin? Would the kinetic energy of spinning cause a photon to exhibit a different property? And therefore look like, let's say, an electron? Is an electron still an electron without the property of spin?
You know, it strikes me that - odd or "dumb"-sounding comments can actually give rise to a "smarter" train of thought...
Not from me, of course - I'm only good for pointless verbiage.
Zuls
5 / 5 (4) Feb 08, 2012
"..They both travel at the speed of light, don't they?..."
Wrong. Electrons don't travel at the speed of light ever. Photons only travel at the speed of light. Learn the basics before commenting please.
Cynical1
not rated yet Feb 08, 2012
"..They both travel at the speed of light, don't they?..."
Wrong. Electrons don't travel at the speed of light ever. Photons only travel at the speed of light. Learn the basics before commenting please.

I thought as much, however was not 100% certain. Hence, there was a reason for the question mark at the end of that sentence...
tscati
4.3 / 5 (4) Feb 08, 2012
"The Diamond synchrotron is millions of times bigger than an X-ray machine or a microscope, yet the light it generates enables scientists to see the internal structures of things that are infinitely smaller, such as atoms."

No, atoms are not *infinitely* smaller than an X-Ray machine, considerably smaller, yes, many times smaller, yes, millions of times smaller, yes, infinitely smaller, no. That would mean atoms have zero size. Which would mean the computer I'm working on wouldn't actually exist. And it does. Sloppy writing, 0/10.

Please edit press releases so that they use accurate and precise language. This is a site about scientific topics, it's not the Daily Mail or Fox News.

Ethelred
4.4 / 5 (7) Feb 08, 2012
dtyarbrough seems to be under the delusion that anything he says is true just because he says it. He has no evidence to support any of that utter nonsense he spouts.

He is just another Physorg Crank.

Ethelred
axemaster
5 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2012
Their energies and size are proportional to their so-called wavelengths, not frequency.

You realize that wavelength and frequency are just two ways to measure the exact same thing, right?

Mass (of particles) is inversely proportional to velocity. Energy remains constant.

Both wrong.

xrays are smaller particles withs billions of times less energy than visible light... The smaller(and less energetic) particles are better suited for imaging atoms and penitrate matter easily.

Wrong.

Particles lose mass as velocity increases.

The opposite is true.

This is why photons don't hit us like a cannon ball even though photons do have mass.

Photons do not have mass, however they do have energy and momentum.

Particles exhibit energy in the form of spin and/or velocity.

Correct, though with spin it is usually dependent on the axis direction relative to fields.

Increase spin and velocity reduces and vice versa.

Wrong...

This is just awful...
axemaster
5 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2012
Spin creates magnetic fields that adds to the mass of the particle.

Correct, sort of. But I doubt you understand the reasons why this is true.

As the electrons are accelerated, they lose spin and reduce their magnetic fields.

Wrong by definition. Elementary particles have quantized spin, meaning it has constant magnitude.

They smash the smallest of all particles and claim they produce energies beyond that of the sun.

They can, and do. The Sun isn't very hot, relatively speaking. The surface temperature is only 5500C. I'm planning to build an oven out of special bricks in the basement of my house that can reach 2200C.

Rediculous. X-rays have been produced in a vacuum by peeling scotch tape from a roll.

Yeah, and without any understanding of the process behind that, you're completely unqualified to make any judgements about it. For example, I can modify your tube TV to produce hard xray radiation with maybe 10 minutes of work. Still very dangerous.
Ethelred
4 / 5 (4) Feb 12, 2012
Wrong by definition.
You were doing so good. Reality cannot be controlled by definitions.

Elementary particles have quantized spin, meaning it has constant magnitude.
Yes but it has nothing to do with a definition. It is due to the evidence supporting a quantization of spin and a fixed magnitude.

They can, and do. The Sun isn't very hot, relatively speaking.
A lot of people have a very unrealistic concept of the temperature of the Sun. I guess they think it is the size of dime.

dtyarbrough is so utterly full of crap it is almost not worth bothering with. He doesn't even try to support his silly nonsense with any evidence at all. At present he is pretty much the most completely oblivious crank on a site that is saturated with Cranks.

The only real question is whether he is technically sane or not. True he is completely out of touch with reality in physics but that isn't enough to qualify as insane.

Ethelred