Day to Day Diamond

This month, we step inside to explore what, and who, it takes to run the synchrotron. We meet the people that keep the electrons accelerating to produce light beams 100 billion...
23 January 2012
Presented by Meera Senthilingam


This month, we step inside to explore what, and who, it takes to run the synchrotron. We meet the people that keep the electrons accelerating to produce light beams 100 billion times brighter than the Sun, every day! We explore the health and safety needed when working with high levels of radiation, the equipment used to ensure every inch of the machine runs smoothly and the industries using Diamond to produce our everyday products. Plus we hear how the facility if run from the top down as well as bring you the latest news and events from Diamond.

In this episode

The Diamond Synchrotron in Didcot, Oxfordshire

01:41 - Technicians at the Synchrotron

Who are the engineers and technicians who keep Diamond operating?

Technicians at the Synchrotron
with Paul Amos, Diamond Light Source

Meera – A the Diamond synchrotron, electrons are accelerated at speeds close to the speed of light, generating beams of light up to a hundred billion times brighter that the sun. So you can imagine that when working with such small particles and such high levels of radiation, the materials, machines and equipment, as well as conditions such as temperature and humidity, must be tightly controlled. To ensure this happens every minute of every day, requires the expertise of many engineers and technicians based at Diamond, all with quite specific roles...

Paul Amos - I’m Paul Amos, I’m a Senior PLC Technician here at Diamond Light Source. I work in the Machine Protection Group which is a PLC-based group. PLC stands for Programmable Logic Control and it’s our job to make sure that the machine is safe to run, taking in vacuum levels, monitoring water flow and temperatures of vital equipment around the machine.

Meera- You’ve mentioned the factors that you have to monitor, how do they affect how well the machine functions and how healthy it is?

Paul – We just take the input in from a flow switch or from a temperature sensor and it’s just a signal to say that it’s healthy or it’s not healthy. If the water flow was to dip then that would compromise the temperature of a certain bit of equipment which could then get even hotter and hotter, so we have to protect the machine from damaging itself, therefore we would, first of all, raise the alarm to say that the water had gone and then if the water continued to dip lower, then we would trip the machine to protect itself.

Meera – and what’s the ideal working temperature then, in the machine, in the synchrotron?

Paul – We try to keep the temperatures below 50 degrees. Once you start to go over 50 degrees then the electronics start to destroy themselves with heat.

Meera – And we’re in your lab here, at the moment, which is in Diamond House, so just over the road through the window we can see the synchrotron. Is this where you monitor all these factors from?

Paul – No this is just a development lab, so in here we work on the Ladder Logic, which is the software that the PLC runs on. The monitoring is actually done in the Control Room via the Epics Software. So they log everything, all the temperatures, all the water flows, and we provide an interlock word which is displayed through the Epics so they can then see what has tripped the machine off or tripped a valve closed.

Meera – And so what valves are you controlling and how do you set about controlling them?

Paul – The valves that separate different vacuum spaces. So the beam travels round  the ring and down to the beamline in a really high vacuum level, and we just have to make sure that the valves are safe to open, so that there’s a good enough vacuum either side of these valves so that they can be opened to let the beam travel round the ring, or down to the beamline.

Meera – And you’ve actually got quite a bit of machinery here, it’s like a, it’s a box really, reasonably big in size with lots of buttons on the front of it and this is, according to what it says, the remote IO valve control crate.

Paul – Yes, that’s correct. The PLC, the Program Logic Controller, is within this box. It’s one of our products we have several other 6 valve controllers, 4 valve controllers, temperature control crates and they are, as we like to put it, plug and play, so they are standard for Diamond so that if one was to go wrong, which very rarely happens, we can easily take that PLC crate out, program up a new one, and replace it. So we can be back up and running very, very quickly.

Meera – So you have to have quite a lot of technical knowledge, but also I guess be quick on your feet here?

Paul – Yes, having a quick response is pretty vital because the machine being off costs quite a bit of money per hour so getting the machine back up and running is our number one key.

Meera – And do you enjoy your role?

Paul – I do, the beamlines are always changing, new beamlines coming on line so they have new requirements. Yeah we have new equipment coming in so therefore we have to interface with new equipment and it’s really good, I really do enjoy it.

Meera – And how did you set about getting into this role? Because your path here is quite interesting in that you did an apprenticeship here at Diamond, training you up in a variety of things and you specialised in this, how did you get to this position?

Paul – Well, my apprenticeship was actually with the STFC, or CCLRC as it was back then, across the road at Rutherford and I got there after doing my A-levels and spent 4 years there doing an apprenticeship in electrical engineering.

Meera – Interestingly, you also train the current apprentices.

Paul – Yes, Diamond have decided to help with the Rutherford scheme. In 2008 we started paying for 2 apprentices in each intake. We’re into our 4th year now and I’m charged with finding positions within Diamond in which the apprentices can come and learn new skills and fulfil their training needs.

Meera – Paul Amos, Senior PLC Technician at Diamond.

Keeping Safe at the Synchrotron
with Guy Thomas, Diamond Light Source

Guy Thomas – Hi, I’m Guy Thomas, I’m the head of Safety, Health and Environment here at Diamond Light Source...

Meera – Now there’s quite a lot to monitor here, there’s a lot of machinery, there’s a lot of metal. It must be quite hard to actually keep everyone safe around such a variety of equipment?

Guy – Yes, you can split Safety into 2 parts; you can split it into the inherent parts with the running of a synchrotron and we’ve also got Users bringing lots of samples and lots of different scientific equipment to the site, so we’ve got things that people introduce on a daily basis as well.

Meera – Well we’re currently inside the ring itself, the synchrotron itself, and we’re on top of where the beam is currently going round just underneath our feet. So from what we can see here, what are some of the health and safety hazards that you need to keep an eye on?

Guy – Well, because of the complexity of a synchrotron, we’ve got practically every health and safety hazard there is, the only one we don’t have here is asbestos because we’re a new building. But we’re stood above a machine which produces radiation, so we’ve got everything from radiation around the side of the building, we’ve got laboratories, and you’ve got the chemical risks with those there, we’ve got lasers in there, biological risks. You’ve got fork-lift trucks that run round the edge of the building, so we’ve got issues with moving machinery, we’ve also got biological hazards because we’ve got a whole Village dedicated to Biology, so the life science work. So we’ve got various viruses and bacteria that people bring here as well.

Meera – So what do you have to set about doing to ensure, I guess, that all these samples and machinery is safe?

Guy – It’s mainly done by risk assessment, the process of risk assessment. So, the static hazards, the hazards we have on site all the time, are part of internal risk assessment process, and all samples that come into the site are assessed by safety professionals to ensure that we can accept the samples and that the experiments that they want to do are safe.

Meera – What’s been perhaps the most challenging thing to control?

Guy – Probably the most challenging and the biggest risk on site is construction. We’re just starting phase 3 which is the building of 10 beamlines. Since the inception of the project, there’s been construction work all the way through and construction is, by definition, one of the high hazard industries in the country. Control of contractors and construction is the biggest one, yeah.

Meera – Now I have to admit Guy I’m quite happy I’m inside the synchrotron with you because I feel like we’ll only go to the really safe parts of it, how did you actually end up getting this position? So I guess what made you become a Health and Safety expert?

Guy – My background is Environmental Science, I took the industrial route from environmental science into industry via the environmental route and found that safety, health and safety, is pulled together with environmental. I then learnt the professional side of health and safety and the two knit together. Before I worked at Diamond, I worked at manufacturing sites and worked in Industry.

Meera – And what lured you into the area? So you have an environmental science background, but what really interested you into this particular aspect of it?

Guy – Well, you have to understand about biology, you have to understand about physical hazards, noise, lasers, radiation, work equipment, and you have to understand some chemical hazards as well. So you have to understand lots about all of the sciences, or at least enough to understand what can harm you in the different activities.

Meera – What would you say are some of the key traits people need to perhaps get into this career?

Guy – I think you’ve got to be calm, I think you have to be quite analytical in the way you think about things and creative as well. There are always new things that come up in safety, so you have to be prepared to go and learn about new things and come up with creative solutions. Otherwise, you would end up stopping lots of things which you want to happen but you just have to find a creative solution to make it happen.

Meera – And I just have a final question about your life outside of Diamond, do you find yourself looking at the safety of things as you walk down the road or if you go into other buildings and I guess if something is unsafe, do you think ‘NO’!?

Guy – Absolutely, there’s a curse of being a safety professional, you can’t go on holiday without spotting the fire extinguishers in your hotel room, seeing that the lift is not safety compliant in hotels in Greece or somewhere, and yeah, you spot all these things even when you’re on holiday and trying not to.

Meera – So unfortunately, a never ending Busman’s Holiday for Guy! That was Guy Thomas, Head of Safety, Health and Environment at Diamond Light Source.

12:43 - Diamond News Update

The latest discoveries at Diamond...

Diamond News Update
with Sarah Boundy, Diamond Light Source

Sarah – So we’ve had some research recently published in Nature Immunology. A number of Diamond’s life science beamlines have been used to study killer T-cells in the human body, these are cells that help protect us from disease. So a team from Cardiff University and King’s College London discovered that T-cells can inadvertently destroy cells that produce insulin and their findings provide the first evidence of this destroying mechanism in action and could offer new understanding of the cause of Type 1 diabetes.

Meera – So how did they actually study this whole area?

Sarah Boundy – So, the team isolated a T-cell from a patient with Type 1 diabetes so they could view a unique molecular interaction which results in the killing of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. So now that they have evidence of this mechanism in action, they can actually see how killer T-cells might play an important role in autoimmune diseases like diabetes. So this knowledge will be used in the future to help researchers predict who might get the disease and is can also help to develop new approaches to prevent it for example; catching the disease early before too many insulin-producing cells have been damaged.

Meera – All quite important because it is a disease that is becoming quite prevalent today as well. Now stepping away from biology and more onto chemistry and in particular molecular chemistry?

Sarah - Diamond’s Small Molecule Single Crystal Diffraction beamline, I19, has recently played a key role in helping to reveal the exact structure of the most complex non-DNA molecular knot prepared to date. So, Knots are found in DNA and proteins and are even found  in the molecules that make up natural and man-made polymers and they can actually play an important role in the substance’s properties. For example, up to 85% of the elasticity of natural rubber is thought to be due to knot-like entanglements in the rubber molecule’s chains.

Meera – Why did chemists, why did scientists want to study this in particular?

Sarah – So they are interested in studying these molecular knots to further understand how they affect a material’s properties, such as elasticity. But tying molecules into knots is something that is really difficult to do and up to now only the simplest types of knot have been achieved. But recently, a team from the University of Edinburgh succeeded in preparing a molecular pentafoil knot, which is basically like a five-pointed star and the scale they were working on was 80,000 times smaller than a hair's breadth and they brought that know to Diamond and the National Crystallography Service collected the diffraction data and an Academy Professor from “YEW-vas-kew-la" University in Finland solved the structure.

Meera – But would you say be some of the applications be having discovered this?

Sarah - Being able to produce materials with a specific number of entanglements, rather than the "random" mixture that occurs in present plastics and polymers, could allow scientists to exercise greater control when designing materials. So for example, it could lead to the creation of very light but strong materials, a kind of molecular chain mail. And it could also produce materials with exceptional elastic or shock-absorbing properties because molecular knots and entanglements are intimately associated with those characteristics.

Meera – Now as well as research though, as usual the Users of Diamond are actually quite important as well as the beamlines and there have been first users on one of the more recent beamlines?

Sarah – Yes, so this is 20th beamline to come online now, it’s Diamond’s X-ray Imaging and Coherence beamline. It’s welcomed first users at the end of last year. Researchers from the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield worked with the beamline team to develop techniques on the coherence branch of I13. So I13 is our long beamline which stretches 250m away from the X-ray source within the synchrotron building.

Meera – Now in previous podcasts we have discussed why this needs to be so long, but for anyone who missed it, why does this beamline need to be that extra distance?

Sarah – Well the distance is necessary in order to produce fully coherent light and that’s light considered in its wave-form as opposed to particles and that enables a wide variety of experiments. So as the light travels over the distance, it fans out into a large, lateral coherent beam, and the beamline receives very brilliant light, which can be described to have laser-like qualities.

Meera – And what were Users looking into?

Sarah – So the Users were using a variety of samples as a means to test the beamline’s capabilities. The Sheffield users are working on a pioneering technique called ptychography which involves exploiting the coherent light in such a way that they are able to combine diffraction and image data to create a high resolution computer-generated image of their sample, and that’s at the nanometre scale.

Meera - Now as well as people coming in to use the facility though Sarah, there’s quite a big Anniversary coming up for Diamond?

Sarah - 2012 is actually Diamond’s ten year anniversary. So the joint venture company was formed a decade ago in March 2002. So we will be celebrating throughout the year with special editions of our newsletter, public open days along with a number of added extras to highlight Diamond’s many achievements over the past ten years. So keep an eye on our website to find out more!

Meera – Thanks Sarah, Sarah Boundy from Diamond’s Communication Team

X ray of hand

Running a Light Source
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.

Mixing Industry and Academia at Diamond
with Clare Pizzey, Diamond Light Source

Claire Pizzey - Hi, I’m Claire Pizzey, I’m an Industrial Liaison scientist here at Diamond. My role at Diamond is to help companies who want to use the facilities here at Diamond, so I work in a team of scientists who help scientist in Industry access the facilities at Diamond for their own research.

Meera – And what kind of Industries do want to access Diamond?

Claire – A whole range! We have facilities that are for a wide range of different types of science and that matches up with a wide range of different types of Industry, ranging from Pharmaceuticals, through to Catalysis and Chemical companies, through to Engineers and anything and everything inbetween. For example, we’ve done some work with Johnson Matthey who are a Chemicals company, we’ve done some work recently with Heptaris who are a Biotechnology company, pharmaceutical company. Quite often companies are developing new products or they’re trying to understand their existing products better, or they’re looking for new ways to make them even better than they currently are. That’s why they look to find a range of research tools and I think that’s what they find here at Diamond.

Meera - So what perhaps are some of the key parts of your role aiding this liaison between them?

Claire – I am one of a team of scientists and we all cover different subject areas, or technique areas. So my speciality is Scattering techniques, so predominantly small angle x-ray scattering, but I also do some surface scattering measurements. Small angle scattering and surface scattering are techniques that allow you to look at the structure of materials, whether that’s the structure of a bulk sample, or the structure of materials at interfaces. Now those are quite important in a wide range of types of products and different areas, and so that can be applied to different situations. So, my job has a couple of different elements to it; I work closely with my colleagues to try and perform some of the research we do on behalf of companies. So it might be that companies want to come and do their own research, then they come and so their own experiments much like our academic Users do, but in some cases they prefer it if we do the research on their behalf. Then it might be me, or my colleagues, who do the experiments for them, analyse the data and write them a relevant report.

Meera – So that’s quite a nice, varied job role really I guess, you get to see the research side of things, the experimental side, but also the more office based stuff and meeting people as well.

Claire – I really like my job, it suits me very well, I get to meet lots of people, I get to talk about high-level science. I mean I’m not publishing as much anymore, I mean a lot of what we do is under confidentiality agreements, but what I find is that I get to be involved in projects in a wide range of different Industries and different range of, let’s say, end products. It could be drug discovery through to shampoo type formulation, through to some kind of engineering component. And I like being able to see how we can use the techniques at Diamond to help across such a wide range of different research problems.

Meera – And how did you get into this area of work, I guess. So you’re conducting experiments yourself, so you must have quite a strong scientific background?

Claire – Before I joined the Industrial Liaison Team, I was actually a member of the Scientific Team on one of the beamlines here at Diamond. So I did my PhD at the University of Bristol, I was then a Post Doc in the States for a couple of years and then I joined Diamond in 2008 working on the small angle scattering beamline I22.

Meera – And what specific area of science did you focus in on before, say during your PhD and so on?

Claire – Well my PhD was quite interesting. I was industrially sponsored, which has made me really appreciate and enjoy applied science, so I was working on Display Materials. So I was sponsored by Hewlett Packard and we were looking at trying to make novel display materials. Now unfortunately what I was working on in my PhD didn’t end up working and I’m sure it’s not a product, but, it was really interesting and it led me into this field of small angle scattering which is what I’ve done a lot of every since.

Meera – and just lastly really, any tips for people that are enticed by the sound of your job and want to go in that direction?

Claire – Well I think that fundamental training as a scientist is very useful for the job that I do, but I think also, with science you can’t always predict where your career will take you and you have to really start with what you’re interested in and keep doing what you’re interested in and it will find you.

Meera – Some top career advice for all budding scientists courtesy of Diamond from Diamond’s Industrial Liaison Scientist, Claire Pizzey.


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