Every few months, Diamond Light Source – the UK’s synchrotron particle accelerator - open their doors to the public to go to visit. I had learnt about this through IanVisits‘ blog some months back, dutifully signed up to the mailing list, and when the e-mail arrived quickly asked for tickets for the January session. So the 8th of January saw me making my way by train to Didcot and by bus on to Harwell campus to get the opportunity to visit this fascinating site.
The visit consisted of a 40minute talk by the events manager at Diamond, followed by a tour of the facility in small groups led by employees of the facility. I thought the talk at the beginning quite good, if maybe alternating a bit between too childish and too technical at different points. The highlight of the trip though was definitely what was to come next.
The guy taking us around the facility took us around the facility in an order similar to that an electron takes. We were first shown the electron gun which produces the electrons which will go round the facility. In the linear accelerator, or LINAC, the electrons are then bunched into very focussed groups which are accelerated to enter the booster ring. I was fascinated to learn that even at the speeds that this machine operates at, the electron packets only enter the booster ring at intervals which make sure that they remain as a discrete packet.
The booster ring is then where the electrons packets gain the required energy to ‘do their job’. So the packets go round and round the ring till they have the required energy, constantly being squashed and squeezed with the use of magnets to make sure that they remain as compact a packet as possible. Once they have reached the required energy they then move on to the storage ring.
As the name implies, the storage ring is where the electron packets are stored. As the electron packets go round this ring, they slowly lose some energy in the form of light. This ‘loss’ is however what the facility depends upon, as it is this synchrotron light which is used to do the work they need here. As the light is uncharged (it is a wave), it is not affected by the magnets in the same way that the charged electrons are, so they are channelled down the beamline and onto the samples.
It is the way the synchrotron light interacts with the samples at this point which is what interests the researchers making use of this facility. Unfortunately, though our guide told us that there will be Fred to explain what goes on at this point, Fred had to go home so we got the events manager explaining things to us. She still did a good job, but I was really looking forward to hearing the scientist at the end of the line talking about the data analysis, especially as we were warned that he tends to be a bit too technical, and to get some answers to some questions I had.
Having walked around the site ‘like an electron packet’, we then found our way to the main entrance, where we said our goodbyes, and made our way back home. If you are in the UK and have even a vague interest in science, I would definitely urge you to sign up to the mailing list for these events!
Filed under: Events and Activities, Public Engagement, beamline, booster ring, Diamond, Diamond Light Source, Didcot, Harwell campus, IanVisits, LINAC, linear accelerator, particle accelerator, storage ring, synchrotron, synchrotron light