• Funding allocated for Diamond II Upgrade
    Rob Walden
  • Beamline 104 Experimental Hutch (credit: Diamond Light Source

News & Views

Funding allocated for Diamond II Upgrade

Jun 22 2022

Diamond Light Source has announced confirmation of £81.5 million funding from UKRI to progress with plans for the first phase of Diamond-II, as part of a major investment in keeping UK researchers and innovators at the forefront of discovery and helping address global challenges.

Commenting on the investment Professor Andrew Harrison, Diamond CEO and Senior Responsible Officer for Diamond II said: “This investment will set a course to strengthen the UK’s global scientific leadership. We are very pleased indeed to have received this support, but we also have to be prepared for the challenges of delivering the Programme in full with the substantial rise in inflation as well as supply chain issues, in a difficult world situation and also in competition with other international facilities.

To lead this programme, Diamond has appointed Rob Walden, a Chartered Engineer with over 20 years’ experience in delivering business and process improvement programmes in the aerospace manufacturing engineering industry, followed by several years as a senior projects advisor in central government. Joining Diamond Light Source from Sellafield Ltd, where he focused on raising the standards of the programme delivery framework, Rob explained more about the challenges around the upgrade to Diamond II in the current post pandemic economic climate:

“The timetable is currently slipping given the effects of the pandemic and the main challenge remains the control of inflation over the budget initially set.

The pandemic has affected everyone.  In our case there was a general slowdown of the science with a focus on the delivery of critical time for the life sciences, so the main impact is felt in the level of outputs for the physical sciences.  With regards to Diamond-II, we are working up the full business case for review by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the coming months to clarify what the emerging timetable will exactly look like.

How will the proposed upgrade impact on both research and industry users and what is being put into place to support ongoing research?

“The timetable includes an 18-month period of shutdown, but we are working through the details and this period needs to be managed carefully with a mitigation plan in place for the scientific community as we appreciate, they will be deeply affected.  But it is short-term pain for long-term gain.

We believe that a mitigation plan should be in place for the user community. They will naturally go to other facilities, but we are proposing for the high demand of life sciences that we dedicate a facility called MX Bridge elsewhere in the world to ensure the demand is fully met. This is still under discussion, but we are well aware that dark times are to be managed in terms of engagement with the user community.  Finally, we also want to maximise all the other instruments we have available from electron microscopes to offline laboratories to make sure the science programme can continue where possible.

On completion where will this place the Diamond Light Source internationally in terms of capability and delivery of experimentation for light source provision for research into life sciences and other disciplines?

The proposed programme will enable the new machine to not only accommodate both high-performance beamlines that are currently based on bending magnets but will also offer additional sites for up to five new beamlines, offering greater capacity and flexibility to accommodate new science drivers and communities well into the future. A further design feature is an increase in electron beam energy from 3.0 GeV to 3.5 GeV, driven by the new scientific opportunities provided by the consequential boost in photon flux at higher energies.

The machine upgrade will go hand-in-hand with developments of beamlines and supporting infrastructure to adapt to and exploit fully the potential of the new beam characteristics: in addition to repositioning beamlines on bending magnets and insertion devices that will be displaced in the new lattice, new optical components must be developed and/or installed to handle finer, brighter beams, and many detectors will also have to be replaced to handle higher photon flux, much of which will be at higher energies; brighter, finer beams will also demand sample delivery systems with higher throughput and more precise, stable positioning, higher flux at higher energy will require a wider range of operando sample environments and there will also be a greater degree of integration with enhanced sample preparation facilities and complementary, often correlative measurements.

All this must progress in line with a greatly enhanced capacity for data storage and transfer as photon flux and detector rates go through step changes, together with greatly enhanced computation speeds to enable raw data to be visualised and processed on timescales that allow users to make informed decisions about experiments in near-real time, adding substantial value to the experiment. The transformation required for the speed of data analysis will require both improvements to hardware and the development of more efficient data flows and algorithms, the latter increasingly exploiting AI methods to be developed in partnership with other facilities, institutes, university groups and industry.

Diamond-II will be a cauldron of life science research and development, integrating X-ray and electron scattering and imaging methods at all stages from sample preparation through to data analysis and interpretation. The new machine will provide a transformative improvement to the sensitivity and throughput of almost all life sciences beamlines allowing better delivery of existing methods as well as new methods and the possibility for additional beamlines to exploit the gains in brightness and coherence. These developments, alongside the continued developments in cryo electron microscopy, where Diamond intends to retain a leading position, will enable not only more and better traditional science but also will drive the transformation from reductive in vitro science to integrative in situ, and ultimately in operando science that will transform our view of biology. This is a scientific grand challenge, and its tractability rests on the assumption that nano-scale structures form into hierarchical assemblies which dictate emergent biological phenomena. In practical terms our aim is to be able to drill down from a field of view of many microns to the atomic level and, ultimately work under physiological conditions to address not only the structure but also the dynamics of life," Rob Walden added.

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