Page last updated at 11:29 GMT, Monday, 4 August 2008 12:29 UK

Light goes out on pioneer machine

SRS (STFC/Daresbury Lab)
The SRS technology was taken up by facilities around the world

The pioneering Synchrotron Radiation Source (SRS) based at the Daresbury Laboratory in Warrington, UK, will be switched off on Monday.

The machine, which probed the structure of materials down to the molecular and atomic level, developed the technology now used in some 60 centres worldwide.

Its X-ray science has been behind new drugs and electronics, and was used in Nobel-winning research on cell energy.

UK synchrotron studies have now moved to the Diamond centre in Oxfordshire.

Daresbury's future is envisioned as an innovation super-centre, where scientific ideas can better make the leap to business.

"Though the SRS has gone, Daresbury Laboratory is growing," said Professor Colin Whitehouse from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which runs the facility.

"It is part of a burgeoning national Science and Innovation Campus and the home of the Cockcroft Institute, a national centre for Accelerator Science and Technology, amongst other world-class research facilities."

Synchrotrons are essentially giant X-ray machines. Their brilliant, high-energy light is produced by electrons travelling in a ring at near-light-speed.

As the particles turn through a course of magnets, they lose energy in the form of X-rays which are then focused down beamlines to target samples positioned at experimental stations.

The light is so intense, it can probe just about any material, revealing the precise positions of its atoms and the arrangement of its molecules.

Future science

Over the past 28 years, synchrotron light has supported cutting-edge research in physics, chemistry and materials science, opening up many new areas of research in fields such as medicine, geological and environmental studies, structural genomics and archaeology.

Since it was opened, the SRS has helped develop new medicines by studying the atomic structure of proteins; it has enabled the production of new materials for use in electronics and clothing; and it has led to the development of new detergents - to list just a few of its achievements.

Perhaps the SRS's biggest moment came when it was used by Sir John Walker to map the structure of an important enzyme that catalyses adenosine triphosphate (ATP) - the molecule that carries the chemical energy that operates the body.

The research earned Sir John the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1997.

Diamond Light Source (STFC)
Diamond was built in the South, to the dismay of Daresbury staff

The decision to site the new Diamond Light Source in the south of England rather than at Daresbury led to a huge political row in the late 1990s.

The North West of England felt that the role played by Daresbury in developing synchrotron science meant it should have been given the "third generation" machine.

Instead, the 300m-plus facility was put on the Chilton-Harwell science campus, the home of the ISIS neutron source, another type of machine that can probe matter at the microscopic level.

Daresbury will be involved in developing the technology for so-called "fourth generation" light sources.

These machines will use X-ray lasers to probe matter on time-dependent scales, allowing researchers to see, for example, the moment bonds are broken and made in a chemical reaction.

Europe, as a bloc, is committed to building one such machine at the moment, at the DESY (Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron) centre in Hamburg. It will be called the X-ray Free-Electron Laser (XFEL).

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