Running a Light Source

How do you run a synchrotron?
23 January 2012

Interview with 

Gerd Materlik, Diamond Light Source


Gerd Materlik – Hello, I’m Gerd Materlik and I am the Chief Executive of Diamond Light Source. I have started with the company from the beginning, planning it, building it, we now have more than 400 employees and also after building the experimental installations we then started operations producing science really and studying things with a broad variety of different scientific fields. And that’s where we are right now.

Meera – So you’re well and truly rooted in the past and future of Diamond. So can you tell us more about the culture of Diamond, really the types of people you have working here and the variety of departments maybe and disciplines?

Gerd – Yeah, it’s wonderful to work with all kinds of different people and if I say we have more than 400, that doesn’t include our Users. We have more than 2000 different Users coming to us from all over the World. And this year, we have celebrated the United Nations of Diamond. Every week a different Nation, and it was great.

Meera – And what about the people housed here at Diamond on a regular basis, because there’s quite a variety on the actual roles within, there are people doing research here perhaps, there are engineers here, there is such a variety of actual positions here at Diamond.

Gerd – Yeah, there are the different divisions of course, starting from Finance, Corporate Services, to Communications, Health and Safety, Industrial Liaison, Science Division, Technical Division, Accelerator People and so on. And they all work together in order to achieve the common goal.

Meera – And what about your role here at Diamond? So you’re the Chief Executive, currently you’re really I guess, having to overview a wide range of different scientific disciplines in different fields of science taking place here, but what’s your actual background, what scientific origin are you from?

Gerd – I’m a physicist really and my special field was Surface and Interface science physics. So that is where reactions are really happening, life wouldn’t be here without interfaces and surfaces because that is where it all started. When I leaned about the synchrotron light, very early as a PhD student, when I once heard a talk of a now famous physicist from Spain, and he described synchrotron radiation to me at the seminar and I was immediately on fire and said that is what I want to do, I went to see this advisor and said I want to go to, what was then Hamburg, the only synchrotron and I want to play around with this light, this realistic light, it’s wonderful. I want to see it really and that got me triggered.

Meera – And hooked you?

Gerd – And it hooked me. There’s a saying in the community, once you’ve got the synchrotron virus, you never get rid of it.

Meera – And so now your role, I guess, is spreading this synchrotron virus to people who work here at Diamond, but also outside of Diamond to get them in for various, perhaps the trainee schemes and PhD’s that are on offer here as well.

Gerd – Yeah, I don’t see it like spreading a virus, I really think that they love to get it. I’m really always pleased to see students and young students and we also have school classes visiting the Diamond and I love to see them and asking, on a open day, a youngster ‘what to you want to be’ and he said ‘A scientist for sure’. And I don’t know any scientists who really regret it, to go into this field and that’s also true for technicians and engineers and I think even people in administration supporting the scientists, they get part of the virus as well.

Meera – And just lastly, I guess, what are some tips then that you give, or you would give, to these children, these pupils that you see as they come to visit Diamond or perhaps anybody else that is contemplating a career in science? What are some suggestions to help them advance in this field?

Gerd – First thing, they should always do what they like to be doing and they shouldn’t be scared. It’s like learning to play a piano, yes, you have to practice and if you don’t practice, you will never play the piano well. And it’s the same in science, you have to practice, you have to learn things and at the end then you can apply these things and that’s what we are doing. So just look at it and don’t be scared, it’s wonderful at the end.

Meera – Gerd Materlik, Chief Executive of Diamond Light Source.


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