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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 12:31 GMT
Giant lab construction begins
One of the biggest science facilities ever built in the UK begins construction on Wednesday.

Diamond, CCLRC/JacobsGIBB/Crispin WrideArchitectural Design Studio
Diamond will not be ready until 2006
The 500m Diamond synchrotron being built in Oxfordshire at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) will probe deep into the basic structure of matter and materials.

It will help researchers answer fundamental questions about everything from the building blocks of life to the origin of our planet.

The decision to site the huge, doughnut-shaped facility at the RAL caused a major row in 2000. Politicians from the northwest of England felt the new generation machine should have gone to an existing centre at Daresbury.

Big demand

Diamond will be the size of a football field. At its heart is a ring-shaped evacuated tube that is surrounded by magnets. These bend and focus a beam of electrons travelling at close to the speed of light.

HOW DIAMOND WILL WORK
Electrons fired into straight accelerator, or linac
Boosted in small synchrotron and injected into storage ring
Magnets bend and focus electrons moving at near light speed
Energy lost emerges down beamlines as highly focused light at X-ray wavelengths
The X-rays this process produces can penetrate deep into a material and reveal its structure. This information helps scientists to better understand the fundamental workings of matter - such as biological tissues, polymers and catalysts - at the atomic and molecular level.

These studies will help them, for example, to design new medicines and high-tech materials, as well as to investigate environmental issues such as climate change.

Diamond will be the biggest new science facility built in Britain for decades.

It will have an estimated 20-year lifetime, but it is expected to be in huge demand.

Protein science

Dr John Taylor, director general of the UK's research councils, said Diamond would take the knowledge gleaned from the Human Genome Project on to the next level.

"Sequencing the genome was the easy bit," he told BBC News Online.

"The gene is the code for the protein and there may be as many as 200,000 of these in the human body. Most of their function and structure is unknown.

"If we want to get the benefits then one of the big things we have to do is understand these proteins. Diamond will let us do that."

Chief executive of the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC), Professor John Wood, told BBC News Online: "This is a fantastic investment in science for the UK.

Diamond, CCLRC/JacobsGIBB/Crispin WrideArchitectural Design Studio
There is expected to be huge demand for the new facility
"It will mean that international scientists will come here and we expert to see a stream of applications from medicines and genetics to engineering and aerospace."

There remains great bitterness among scientists at the Daresbury synchrotron facility in Cheshire, which was the first machine of its kind when it became operational in 1980.

They, together with local MPs, campaigned vigorously for Diamond to be built in the northwest.

It was felt the final decision to opt for a site in the south of England was unduly influenced by the French Government who had promised to part-fund Diamond. The French later pulled out of the project to build their own facility.

The funding for Diamond comes from the UK Government through the CCLRC and the medical charity Wellcome Trust.

(Artist impressions by JacobsGIBB Ltd/Crispin WrideArchitectural Design Studio.)


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Sue Nelson
"The donut shaped rings are the most important part"



SEE ALSO:
French to build their own synchrotron
05 May 00 |  Science/Nature
Science facility goes south
14 Mar 00 |  Science/Nature


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