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Durham To Supply Key Equipment For UK's Diamond Particle Accelerator

Durham University scientists are making a vital piece of equipment - a soft X-ray diffractometer - for observing the behaviour of electrons in the UK’s largest science project for 30 years.

Professor Peter Hatton and colleagues in the Physics Department at Durham have been awarded £900,000 to design and build a soft X-ray diffractometer – an essential component of the new Diamond research complex that will enable scientists to examine and test materials at a super-microscopic level – down to their basic atoms and particles.

Prof Hatton developed the new technique of Resonant soft X-ray Diffraction during his research as a Sir James Knott University Foundation Fellow at Durham. The process allows scientists to see the complex behaviour of electrons in solids and is important in developing new high-density memory devices for computers, new magnetic materials and sensors, and understanding magnetic superconductors

In a consortium with colleagues Professor Brian Tanner and Dr Tom Hase, Prof Hatton secured funding from the Facility Development Board of the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC), which is constructing the Diamond facility. The award is one of the largest grants made by CCLRC to a University, and is one of several high value grants won by condensed matter physics staff at Durham in the past two years.

Prof Hatton explained: “Durham scientists are playing a leading role in the design and construction, and will ultimately be users, of Diamond – a vast new national facility. Diamond is a synchrotron: a particle accelerator that will produce X-rays a 100 billion times brighter than hospital X-ray machines. These beams will allow us to look deep into the basic structure of matter and materials. “

The Durham-supplied soft X-ray diffractometer will be housed in a high vacuum chamber (soft, or low energy, X-rays cannot pass even through air) equipped with cryogenic and magnetic field environments.

The Diamond complex, which has been built in South Oxfordshire, is a 235m diameter doughnut-shaped building, covering the area of 5 football pitches. It is specially designed to be ultra-stable to prevent any vibration that could disturb the extremely fine beams of electrons that will be accelerated around its ring system. Equipment, including the Durham diffractometer, is being installed in stages. The complex will house up to 40 locations for setting up experiments as part of research in life, physical and environmental sciences

Diamond, which is funded by the government and the Wellcome Trust is due to open later this year at a total cost of about £300m.

Keith Seacroft | alfa
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