UK cutting-edge science facility to get £500 million upgrade

World-renowned Diamond Light Source research centre played a crucial role in the battle against Covid-19

An aerial photograph of the Diamond Light Source building, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. The facility is in line for £500 million upgrade.  Aerial Photograph by David Goddard
Powered by automated translation

A science facility in Oxfordshire, which was at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19, is to receive £500 million to develop its giant microscope.

Diamond Light Source in Harwell houses the microscope, which is the UK’s national synchrotron. It produces light 10 billion times brighter than the sun, which gets directed into laboratories called beamlines, where research takes place in virtually all fields of science from health to energy research.

The synchrotron is 10,000 times more powerful than a traditional microscope and aside from being used to make breakthroughs in health care, it's also been employed to study a vast range of objects, including fragments of ancient paintings and fossils.

It was used to study the atomic structure of Sars‑CoV‑2, the virus responsible for Covid-19. Subsequently, the synchrotron helped understand the efficacy of the Covid vaccine as well as other treatments for many diseases from HIV to cancer.

Diamond Light Source is a joint venture between the UKRI, which owns 86 per cent, and the Wellcome Trust charity which owns 14 per cent. They are both contributing to the upgrade funding.

"Our investment will ensure one of the most pioneering scientific facilities in the world continues to advance discoveries that transform our health and prosperity, while creating jobs, growing the UK economy and ensuring our country remains a scientific powerhouse," said Michelle Donelan, the UK's science, innovation and technology secretary.

New discoveries

The government said that the upgrade is expected to take seven years and "will involve construction of a new, even brighter synchrotron machine, with new flagship beamlines and critical beam line upgrades".

The improved synchrotron is expected to help with many scientific processes, from accelerating drug development to enhancing the life and performance of next-generation batteries.

"Over the past two decades, it has enabled generations of researchers to explore scientific questions that push boundaries, collaborate across disciplines, develop new technologies and make new discoveries to advance health that could not have been pursued elsewhere," said Cheryl Moore, chief research programmes officer at Wellcome.

"We are pleased to see the UK government invest in this outstanding research facility, reaffirming the UK’s role as a world leader in science and technology.

"Wellcome has been a proud supporter of Diamond Light Source since its formation and we’re delighted to continue this partnership, ensuring researchers have the resources needed to transform our understanding of life, health and well-being."

The Diamond Light Source centre currently hosts more than 220 companies and more than 14,000 scientists have used it since operations began in 2007.

In addition, this is by no means a white elephant project - the economic and social impacts of the facility are estimated to be worth at least £2.6 billion.

It's also calculated that patents arising from the scientific activity at the facility are collectively valued at more than £10 billion.

"This investment in Diamond-II will play a crucial role in cementing the UK’s place as a Science Superpower and provide our talented researchers and innovators with the best opportunities to make major breakthroughs across a wide range of disciplines from structural biology to advance materials and battery technologies," said Professor Mark Thomson, executive chairman of the Science and Technology Facilities Council and UKRI champion for infrastructure.

Updated: September 06, 2023, 10:38 AM