The first research projects have begun at the newly opened Diamond Light Source, a state of the art synchrotron facility in Oxfordshire.
Scientists working on cancer research, developing new data storage techniques, and the origins of our solar system will be among the first to use the synchrotron.
The research groups, drawn from Oxford, Durham, Leicester and London universities, have been selected from a stack of 127 proposals the Diamond facility received in the last year.
The facility has been described as a "big torch" but that hardly does it justice. It covers an area equivalent to that of five football pitches, making "big" sound quite inadequate. Inside, it uses magnets to accelerate electrons to almost the speed of light, and focuses them into very precise beams of synchrotron light; a bit better than your average torch.
The synchrotron light generated at the Diamond facility will be 10,000 times as bright as the light from the current national synchrotron. That is the equivalent of 100 billion times brighter than a standard hospital x-ray machine or 10 billion times brighter than the sun.
This phenomenally bright light allows researchers to examine the finest details of a protein's structure, watch the dance of electrons on the surface of a magnetic storage disk, or peel back the layers of crystals in a meteor that crashed to Earth.
Two projects are likely to pave the way for new technologies of particular interest to El Reg's readers: David Eastwood, from the University of Durham, and Professor Christopher Binns from the University of Leicester will both be using the machine to investigate the properties of magnetic storage media. Eastwood's emphasis is on reading data, while Professor Binns' more academic approach is more likely to lead to better storage techniques.
Meanwhile, Dr Paul Schofield from the Natural History Museum will be using the super-bright light to peer into fragments of the Santa Catharina meteorite. He hopes the work will reveal more about the early life of the space rock and, therefore, about the early days of the solar system.
Finally, cancer researchers might get some clues to how to design new drugs thanks to Professor Dave Stuart, from the University of Oxford, who will be using the light to learn more about a protein that as been implicated in the development of some forms of the disease. ®