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Working with Diamond Light Source – University of Reading

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Working with Diamond Light Source

Diamond Light Source, the national synchrotron facility, celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2012 and University of Reading researchers have been involved with the facility from the very start.

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What is Diamond Light Source?

Based only 30 minutes from the University in South Oxfordshire, the Diamond synchrotron is a vital resource for the University's research in Biological Sciences, Pharmacy and in particular, Chemistry.

The synchrotron accelerates electrons up to very high speeds, producing very bright focused beams of light, around 100 billion times brighter than a standard hospital X-ray machine or 10 billion times brighter than the sun. Scientists use the light to study a wide range of chemical and biological structures at the atomic and nanoscale.

The University of Reading's partnership with Diamond Light Source facilitates high profile fundamental scientific research at the University. This strong partnership and the proximity of the facility to Reading provides world class facilities and training for a number of our postdoctoral research staff and postgraduate students.

Reading's research in partnership with Diamond Light Source

Several leading Reading research groups spend some of their time working at Diamond. Typically, a team includes at least one academic and several research students, along with postdoctoral scientists. Some of the students are co-funded by Diamond Light Source, which provides an excellent experience for the student, both by giving them superb facilities, but also because they learn teamwork and good communication skills. Currently, 12 Reading academics make regular use of the facility, as well as 11 co-funded joint postgraduate students.

Find out more about some of the research that has been aided by the use of Diamond's facilities:

Nanomaterials for Sustainable Energy

The research groups of Dr Adam Squires and Dr Joanne Elliott have developed a method of producing ultra-high surface area metal coatings, with a wide range of green energy applications including fuel cells, solar cells, electric car batteries and catalysts. The patented method uses a low-cost environmentally friendly process, and produces a thousand-fold increase in active surface area. The exquisite 3D nanostructure of the metal is completely new; the work is to be published shortly in the leading journal Advanced Materials, and the technique and the nanostructure are shown in this video.

A PhD student, Sam Richardson, began a joint project in October 2012, half funded by Diamond, which will exploit Diamond's world-leading capabilities in small-angle x-ray scattering to probe the details of the nanostructure, to understand how we can precisely control its dimensions, and to investigate the new electronic and catalytic properties that these novel materials will produce.

Structures of medicinally important biomaterials

Professor Ian Hamley, Diamond Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University, is leading ground-breaking research into peptides, tiny parts of proteins that occur naturally and have an important biological function in the human body. His research into the structure and functions of peptides has given researchers new insights into potential treatments for Alzheimer's disease.

Professor Hamley's team has also found a form of peptide that can stimulate the formation of collagen, part of the structure of the skin, leading to hopes that peptide-based treatments could be formulated to treat wounds, or in cosmetic applications as an anti-wrinkle cream.

Former PhD student, Gemma Newby, from Prof Ian Hamley's team at the University of Reading, together with scientists from Diamond and ISIS, have used Diamond to study different aspects of the complex behaviour of Pluronics. Their work has been published in the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science.

Meanwhile, access to Diamond Light Source has underpinned research on the amniotic membrane, in a collaboration between Dr Squires in the Department of Chemistry, Dr Che Connon in the School of Pharmacy, and Dr Anna David, a consultant in Obstetrics and Maternal/Fetal Medicine at UCL Hospitals. The research programme, led by Dr Connon, aims to make stem cell patches to repair amniotic membranes, whose rupture causes up to 40% of premature births

Surface Crystallography and Dynamics

Research from Reading into the structure of surfaces and the way molecules arrange themselves at surfaces could have real benefits for industrial applications. These include improving the efficiency and selectivity of catalysts that will help pharmaceutical companies produce cheaper and safer drugs, and reduce pollution through exhausts from engines and power stations. They will also help in designing and producing very well-defined nanostructures for sensors and lithography used in the production of high-performance electronic devices.

Dr Roger Bennett is the Principal Investigator on a project to discover why metals spread out on polar oxide surfaces such as zinc oxide whereas they grow as droplets on other oxides. This research will enable further developments of useful devices and catalysts in the future which speed up devices, reduce our energy consumption, or enable us to manufacture low carbon, efficient fuels and chemicals.

Dr Bennett's group were the first users of a section of beamline 107 in March 2012 and Dr Bennett was on the user working group to build the beamline.

Shining a light on ruthenium-DNA interactions

Christine Cardin is Professor of Crystallography - she has worked extensively with synchrotron radiation sources and been involved with Diamond Light Source since the project was announced ten years ago: "Diamond is a wonderful resource for world class science, and the work of my group has been transformed by our access to the facility and the work my students have been able to do there. We can do in ten minutes what used to take days or weeks".

James Hall is one of these students, jointly-funded by the University and Diamond. His research has the potential to improve photodynamic therapy, whereby drugs injected into the bloodstream to treat a tumour, for example, are light activated and are not reliant on the chemical itself to target the tumour. "What Diamond lets us do is see exactly how the ruthenium compounds we are studying have bound to DNA. This information cannot be obtained any other way". The most recent findings were featured on the August 2012 issue of Nature Chemistry and may pave the way for improved cancer diagnostics.

The shapes of large biological molecules

Reading PhD student Gudrun Lotze developed a portable, low-cost instrument for automated analysis of small volume samples of protein solutions using small-angle x-ray scattering, in a collaboration between Adam Squires and Ian Hamley in Reading, and Nick Terrill and Katsuaki Inoue at Diamond. Having proved that the instrument worked on model proteins, the team at Reading went on to set up collaborative projects to analyse biological samples for other research teams, including projects in the School of Biological Sciences and Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences at Reading.

The instrument helped to tackle real biological challenges from enzyme activity in biotechnology, to calcium signalling proteins whose misfunction is associated with cardiac failure, hypertension and diabetes, allowing samples as small as a few drops to be analysed rapidly at a synchrotron. Aspects of the instrument design have now been incorporated into beamlines in other synchrotron facilities in Lund, Sweden and Grenoble, France, where Gudrun has been working as a post-doctoral research scientist since completing her PhD.

Diamond underpins a wealth of further research at Reading, in topics ranging from protein crystal structures (Kim Watson) and reactions in aerosol droplets in the atmosphere (Christian Pfrang and Adam Squires) to studies of polymers (Geoff Mitchell and Fred Davis) and powders (Ann Chippindale and Kenneth Shankland) with fundamentally new physical and chemical properties.

A deeper relationship

A number of Reading postgraduates have gone on to obtain posts at Diamond Light Source itself, while others have got jobs in synchrotron facilities internationally.

Chief Executive of Diamond Light Source Ltd, Professor Gerd Materlik, is an Honorary Graduate of the University of Reading and a Visiting Professor at the University.

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