Good news for chocolate lovers

BBC News: Diamond facility starts to shine.

In the heart of South Oxfordshire stands a vast silver doughnut-shaped building. The futuristic construction is home to a huge scientific contraption that will, quite literally, shine a light on the tiny particles that make up the world. As well as furthering our understanding of nature, it will help develop new materials, drugs and electronics – and even make our food taste better. This new research facility, Diamond Light Source, represents the UK’s largest scientific investment for 30 years. Covering the area of five football pitches, the facility has cost about £300m – funded by the government and the Wellcome Trust – and is on-track to open in just six months’ time.

At its heart is a synchrotron – a particle accelerator that uses electrons to generate powerful "synchrotron" light that enables scientists to look inside matter at the molecular and atomic scale. "If you have a beam of electrons travelling close to the speed of light and if you apply a magnetic field, they bend, and in the process of doing so they throw off synchrotron light," says Diamond’s technical director, Richard Walker.

Synchrotron light covers the light spectrum from microwaves to x-rays, and the light at Diamond will be 100 billion times brighter than light from standard x-ray tubes. It will start with seven beamlines in January 2007 and add more later. But this is the best science quote I’ve heard all year:

Professor Trevor Rayment, a physical chemist from Birmingham University and chair of the user forum at Diamond, says he is very excited about the new facility. In fact, a year ago he moved from Cambridge University to Birmingham University just so he could be closer to Diamond to carry out his own research on understanding corrosion. "I think Diamond will impact on the whole of the UK’s science and technology base – from oil rigs through to things as important as chocolate: chocolate tastes as good as it does because of its micro-structure, and one of the beamlines will be able to analyse the formation of chocolate in situ. I’m really looking forward to doing experiments here. Having this quality of facility in the UK is going to be great."

(emphasis mine)

"Things as important as chocolate," a scientist after my own heart.

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