Diamond Light Source gives engineering apprentices, students and postgraduate researchers the chance to get hands on with the UK’s giant X-ray machine!
Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron: in essence a giant X-ray machine the size of Wembley stadium, which produces a light 10 billion times brighter than the sun and is used by thousands of scientists each year for cutting-edge experiments across a broad range of areas.
Along with working closely with academia and industry to promote careers in STEM through open days and technical visits, Diamond drives pioneering research by collaborating extensively with universities. The synchrotron provides a training ground for the next generation by taking on apprentices, and undergraduate interns as well as employing large numbers of PhD students and postdoctoral scientists and engineers
Beam me up!
Diamond plays a vital role in the future of science and technology, providing access to 24 different beamlines, all fed by the synchrotron ring. The majority of these are X-ray beamlines of differing energies, with one infrared and one ultraviolet also available for use. As Professor Andrew Harrison, CEO of Diamond Light Source explains, the different X-ray energy levels allow researchers to undertake highly varied work.
“You can produce very hard, energetic X-rays that penetrate matter very deeply,” he says. “They’re used on engineering beamlines where you need to get X-rays in and out of dense materials like metals. Lower energy X-rays allow you to probe more subtle processes, to look in greater detail at lighter elements,” he explains.
Amazing research work
Anything and everything can go under the Diamond microscope and in the past research has included work on the world’s oldest virus, Martian meteorites, 462 million year old coral, the Dead Sea Scrolls, nanotechnology, advanced magnetic materials and even the Mary Rose!
Of all Diamond’s beamlines, I12 – the Joint Engineering, Environmental and Processing (JEEP) instrument is one that will be of interest to engineers. I12 allows for industrial scale experiments – for example Rolls-Royce used I12 to look at strengthening and improving the efficiency of its airplane fan blades.
“It’s a very interesting beamline, very much linked to industry,” says Professor Harrison. “I12 is great for focusing on stresses and potential failure points in engineering. It’s really relevant to the automotive industry, jet planes and even submarines.
“It’s one of our highest energy beamlines, which means the X-rays are very, very penetrating, enabling you to look inside the structure of dense materials. You can even do this while an object is operating – for example researchers were able to experiment with an entire motorbike, and could look at a piston as it moved. You could follow the change in its structure and look at the material’s properties in situ.
“Another example is we’ve got people who’re developing synthetic materials for artificial cartilage; knee joints for example. We can look at the material on a rig that applies the sorts of forces you might expect on a knee joint as you’re running and see how it responds.”
Sounds like somewhere you’d like to visit, right? Well, aside from public open day trips, young engineers and researchers also have several different opportunities to work at Diamond.
Firstly the facility collaborates with many universities, offering collaborative grants as well as the chance for PhD students to undertake a research project and submit a thesis for examination. This research is intended to lead to academic publications and further careers, and currently over 50 PhD students are jointly funded by Diamond and academia, with roughly 1000visiting to undertake experiments each year.
“Here they learn skills that they will then take and use throughout their academic career,” Professor Harrison enthuses.
Students come from many different industries, learning a myriad of new skills and meeting people from different sectors. Take Sam Horrell, for example.
“I’m a biologist by training, so coming to Diamond allowed me to experience the beamlines’ capabilities and work alongside engineers and physicists,” he says. “It rounds out your experience, working in a place with so much diversity!
“Whatever you’re interested in learning about, there are hundreds of people there that can help. There are so many people and resources at your disposal here. It’s a great place to do science.”
Apprentices also have the opportunity to be placed at Diamond. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) offer a number of electrical, electronic and mechanical apprenticeships, some of which include time at Diamond, where the apprentices can get involved in very high spec electronics and controls systems, as well as mechanical manufacture and maintenance.
Finally, undergraduates might also be interested to find out that Diamond offers summer internships working at the synchrotron. Roughly 30 places are available each year, but competition for a place is fierce.
“Our summer student scheme is very competitive, with people applying internationally. We offer a three month placement where students undertake a proper project,” says Professor Harrison.
“They apply as if they would for a job,” continues Dr Isabel De Moraes, Facilities Co-ordinator at Diamond and Group Leader at Imperial College London. “They apply online and then they’re shortlisted for interview,” she explains.
So what do they look for in a potential intern?
“We’re looking for people who really excel in their field and we need people who are extremely enthusiastic. But don’t worry – we don’t expect you to have experience working at a synchrotron, although you really have to be something special, as it’s a very competitive application process,” Dr De Moraes notes.
The benefits of working at Diamond Light Source
Clearly working at Diamond sounds like an amazing opportunity, but what do the people there feel you gain from the experience?
“It offers a huge opportunity to interact with different teams of scientists, but you’re not just ‘locked’ into Diamond, you get to collaborate with other facilities in the area too,” says Dr De Moraes.
“As well as the practical training aspect, there’s also the fact that Diamond is a well-known, established and prestigious facility. It’s a huge opportunity for the education of someone who wants to work as a scientist,” adds Professor Harrison. “When you’re confronted with science outside of a textbook it’s about testing the rules, exploring the limitations of what we know. Visiting a place like this brings your education alive!”
Find out more about Diamond Light Source and the synchrotron at www.diamond.ac.uk.