Published September 2007

Visit to ‘The Diamond Light Source’ Harwell

The EPG’s initial enquiries to visit the new cyclotron at Harwell were directed towards their first general open day on 14th July. The facility’s construction was the result of the government, in 1998, identifying of an area of technology that Britain would benefit from in the future. Existing facilities such as that at Daresbury, near Manchester, were aging and nearing the end of their expected life. It was foreseen that the right ‘up market’ machine could not only satisfy UK demand but hope to attract considerable business from the wider EU and, indeed, the rest of the world. It was further expected that if of appropriately flexible design, notably in terms of easy wide ranging, accurate, tunability and provision for many users to work on the equipment at the same time, operational costs could be kept sufficiently low as to attract a lot of additional business, additional business in the form of research into a wider range of topics than had hitherto been possible. So it was that the new ‘second generation’ machine came to be embarked upon under the banner of ‘The Diamond Light Source’ with 86% funding from the government and 14% funding from ‘The Welcome Trust’.

The site chosen was one next to Harwell, the attractions being mainly; the availability of suitable land (long owned by the UKAEA), its proximity to many doorstep high technology companies (spun off from the adjacent old UKAEA Harwell research facility), numerous other high technology companies in the wider surrounding area, the convenient availability of an existing heavy power feed from the nearby Didcot power station and the proximity of Oxford University and other universities with very active technology orientated departments.

Under the wing of the principle construction contractor Costain work building the new facility began in March 2003. The plant became operational in January 2007, although not yet provided with all the forty experimental stations it will eventually be able to accommodate. Its cost so far has been about £380 million.

As regards the open day it seems that Diamond did considerable advertising in their immediate geographic area, e.g. advertising in local newspapers etc, to give the local populace a chance to look around the great new shiny doughnut, covering an area of five football pitches, with associated outbuildings, that had recently appeared ‘on their doorstep’. They were expecting up to about 4000 visitors and as such had set up extensive car parks, employed an army of seemingly specialist stewards, provided batteries of some of the smartest Port-a-Loos I’ve ever seen (complete with simulated wood finishes and reproductions of French Impressionist paintings) and a number of marques for refreshments and special displays. Entry was only by those who had previously booked.

Inside the main building more stewards directed the visitors as appropriate and Diamond employees stood on hand to provide additional explanation over and above the basic outlines provided on the many display boards and solid state VDU’s. There were also numerous exhibitors from outside organisations, e.g. Cardiff University, who had already used, or planned soon to use, the light source. The Diamond physicists and engineers, if you found the right one, which was in fact very easy to do, were able to answer more or less any question one might have and the wide variety of users and prospective users attended their display stands showed just what a very wide range of uses the new facility has. It really does look as if it might stimulate a lot of new research.

Whether the result of being told, by way of a notice board, or asking, there are any number of interesting facts and figures concerning this new facility. Every individual will, of course, be interested by different things so there is not much point in trying to satisfy all by writing reams and reams here. Much is available on the web site and more can be provided by phone from the ‘horses mouth’, Diamond staff, for those who want more. However, to give a little flavour, by way of a random selection, one might include that; the facility took 2 million man-hours to construct, it consumed 2000 tons of steel, it is expected to provide employment for about 350 employees, it typically draws about 11 Mw of electricity, and produces up to 3 Gev electrons running in a vacuum of one picobar. Most communication, other than phone lines, is by fibre optic. For mechanical stability the whole rig is built on a heavy concrete foundation set on piles because the surface chalk was insufficiently stable and a measure of decoupling was required from outside vibrations, e.g. earth quakes, (don’t forget even distant earthquakes cause some effect here, as they do everywhere else). Needless to say there is heavy screening from radiation, shutdown trips occur if it is measures above 5% of legal limits.

Perhaps a rather depressing point to some in the UK may be that it seems much of the equipment came from abroad. Yes, as we know the trend here for decades has been to develop ‘service’ industries, which I suppose means selling such as hamburgers to each other, at the expense of manufacturing. The licensed manufacture of (foreign designed) hamburgers doesn’t count in my book. Nor can I see that GDP (increased by selling hamburgers to one another) is such a useful measure of economic strength when considering a nations wealth as a whole. During the twenty or so years since a well known British PM declared that Britain’s way forward was to move more heavily to service industries, UK industry has dropped its contribution to the UK economy from 25% to 13%. I note that those economies, e.g. China, that have been accumulating large sums by manufacturing are now beginning to move into big league service industries such as banking (note China’s recent 9 billion sterling loan to Barclays Bank). Methinks the UK should not be so naive as to think they are going to be left alone in this area. Never mind the economic sensitivity resulting from over reliance on banking profits. Profits from what has become a highly artificial sector as revealed by banker’s latest worries concerning the obscuration of their risk. I, as I guess you might too, still believe it needs a strong manufacturing sector, not least to save some semblance of knowledgeable balance in the populace as a whole. Did I hear recently that GCSE science papers are to be made easier with such questions as, “Did Galileo use a telescope, a microscope or a horoscope to look at the stars?”

Anyway, to be more specific about the manufactured products that have gone into the making of the Diamond Light Source. It seems that for the most part; the stainless steel ring and its branches (all precision engineered of course) with its countless flanges, welds and other connecting pieces, came from Germany, the magnets, there are an awful lot of them, came largely from Germany and Russia, most of the communication electronics from China, the precision laser alignment system to critically align the whole rig came from the US. As regards, Diamond’s technical staff --- there to answer our queries --- many were English, but there was a fair sprinkling of foreign accents. Those in academia take note …. product, packaging, appropriately trained ‘human’ stock levels, departmental closures. Then for the government’s consideration, consider the lack of a network of appropriate home companies, in our new service economy, for these newly graduated people to climb up to get the required experience.

What I found more surprising was that one of the technical staff, an EU mainlander by origin, began referring to distances in yards. I thought a fruitier in the NE --- according to BBC news reports a year ago --- selling apples in pounds and ounces was bad enough but an EU mainlander working here in a high tech company referring to yards! When I started my ‘A’ levels nearly half a century ago the first thing my physics teacher said was, “Your ‘A’ level exam’s will be in MKS. From now on we are going to do everything in MKS. That’s the way the world, and Britain, is going.” During my subsequent working life I began to think, until recently, that it was only the Americans really dragging their feet, not that we too were trying to pull Europe back 200 years to the horrors of calculations in imperial, or the like. Or was it that the person speaking to me, like his ancestors 2000 years ago, was trying too hard to communicate with the local barbarians. Who is it makes the Pendolino trains that Virgin use, have the world’s biggest fleet of heavy lifting barges, has one of the world’s biggest independent construction companies outside of the US, the world’s biggest high tech compressor manufacturers, one of the biggest industrial communications manufacturers, one of the worlds biggest car manufacturers….. to mention just a few things that pop to mind. Yes, I admit they are generally low profile things that the majority of the public don’t realise or even know about, but they are things on which the world’s modern living depends. As many say, “History keeps repeating itself.”