The Diamond-II Upgrade: A Vision for the Future
In a significant boost to scientific research and innovation, the UK’s renowned Diamond Light Source facility, located in Harwell, Oxfordshire, is set to undergo a groundbreaking £500 million upgrade.
This announcement, made by Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan on Wednesday, September 6, reaffirms the UK’s commitment to advancing healthcare, engineering, and environmental research.
Established in 2001 and opened in 2007, Diamond has played a pivotal role in numerous scientific breakthroughs, including contributions to the fight against global health challenges like HIV, malaria, and cancer.
The Powerhouse of Discovery
Diamond Light Source, often referred to as the UK’s national synchrotron, is no ordinary microscope. Its cutting-edge technology generates light that is a staggering 10 billion times brighter than the sun.
This intense light is directed into specialized laboratories known as beamlines, where researchers from various scientific disciplines conduct their experiments. Diamond is more than just a research facility; it is a scientific beacon that illuminates the path to progress.
The Investment and Partners Behind the Upgrade
The ambitious Diamond-II upgrade will require several years of meticulous planning and implementation. This transformative project will involve an “18-month dark period” with no synchrotron light for the user community. However, this temporary setback will pave the way for the launch of the enhanced facility. The upgrade will introduce three new flagship beamlines and significant improvements to existing ones.
Diamond’s transformation is made possible through a collaboration between the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Wellcome Trust.
The former contributes 86% of the funding, while the latter provides 14%. This partnership underscores the significance of the project and its potential to drive groundbreaking research.
STFC and Wellcome: Pillars of Scientific Innovation
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), a vital part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), stands as the UK’s largest public funder of research in areas such as particle and nuclear physics, astronomy, astrophysics, and space science.
Operating five national laboratories across the country, STFC’s extensive research facilities advance our understanding of the world and tackle pressing scientific and societal challenges, from CERN to the James Webb Space Telescope.
Wellcome, a global charitable foundation, is raising its commitment to science to a staggering £16 billion over the next decade. Their focus lies in supporting discovery research in areas of life, health, and wellbeing, with a particular emphasis on mental health, infectious diseases, and the intersection of climate and health.
Diamond’s Crucial Role in Scientific Advancements
Diamond Light Source’s contributions to science are nothing short of remarkable. It has been instrumental in kickstarting the development of COVID-19 drugs and advancing treatments for a range of global health challenges, including HIV, malaria, and cancer.
Beyond healthcare, Diamond’s capabilities extend to various fields, from analyzing ancient paintings and fossils to finding solutions for enhancing the lifespan of machinery like engines and turbine blades.
Secretary Michelle Donelan’s Vision
Science, Innovation, and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan expressed the profound impact of Diamond Light Source on scientific discovery. While it may not always be in the spotlight, this national synchrotron has played a pivotal role in defining recent scientific breakthroughs. It was the driving force behind the development of COVID-19 drugs and continues to contribute to transformative discoveries in health and beyond.
Donelan emphasized that the £519 million investment ensures that Diamond remains at the forefront of pioneering scientific facilities worldwide. This upgrade will facilitate further discoveries, boost job creation, stimulate economic growth, and reinforce the UK’s position as a scientific powerhouse.
The project is expected to conclude in 2030 and will include the construction of a brighter synchrotron machine, new flagship beamlines, and critical beamline upgrades.
Wellcome’s Endorsement of Diamond’s Legacy
Cheryl Moore, Chief Research Programmes Officer at Wellcome, acknowledged Diamond Light Source’s crucial role in scientific innovation. Over the past two decades, Diamond has enabled researchers to push the boundaries of scientific inquiry, collaborate across disciplines, develop new technologies, and make groundbreaking discoveries that advance health and well-being. The UK government’s investment in this facility reaffirms the nation’s position as a global leader in science and technology.
Support from the Exchequer
Exchequer Secretary Gareth Davies highlighted the pivotal role of the life sciences sector in the UK. He emphasized that the UK’s pioneering technology, including Diamond Light Source, played a key part in the successful development of COVID-19 vaccines. This sector will continue to receive government backing to drive discovery, create jobs, and bolster the UK economy.
Diamond’s Broader Impact
Diamond’s influence extends beyond healthcare and into the physical sciences, contributing to the discovery of new materials for electronics and renewables. Additionally, it plays a vital role in technology development that supports the Net Zero agenda.
The facility currently hosts over 220 UK-based companies and has welcomed more than 14,000 scientists since its inception in 2007. The facility’s economic and social impacts demonstrate a significant return on the £1.4 billion public investment to date, estimated at a staggering £2.6 billion.
Collectively, patents that cite Diamond publications value over £10 billion.
A Vision for the Future: Diamond-II
Professor Mark Thomson, Executive Chair of the Science and Technology Facilities Council and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Champion for Infrastructure, emphasized that the UK’s scientific leadership requires not only talented researchers but also world-class research infrastructure.
The Diamond-II investment will play a pivotal role in solidifying the UK’s status as a Science Superpower, enabling researchers and innovators to make groundbreaking breakthroughs across a wide range of disciplines.
The Diamond-II upgrade is not merely a project; it is a commitment to advancing science, fostering innovation, and solving the pressing challenges of our time. It is a testament to the UK’s dedication to remaining at the forefront of scientific discovery, offering a brighter future for research, technology, and society as a whole.