Synchrotron Experiments

Synchrotron Experiments: Analysing Synchrotron output data

Diamond is a synchrotron; a huge scientific machine, half a kilometre in circumference, designed to produce very intense beams of X-rays, infrared and ultraviolet light. For centuries, scientists have used microscopes to study things that are too small to see with the naked eye. However, microscopes are limited by the visible light that they use. Optical microscopes can be used to study objects that are a few microns (0.001mm) in size, about the size of cells. However, to study smaller objects like molecules and atoms, scientists need to use the special light generated by the synchrotron.

Third generation synchrotrons like Diamond also use special arrays of magnets called insertion devices. These cause the electrons in the storage ring to wiggle around, which produces intense light. When the path of the electron beam is bent by Diamond’s powerful magnets, the electrons lose energy in the form of light. This light can then be channelled out of the storage ring and into the experimental stations, called beamlines.It is inside these beamlines that scientists carry out their experiments. The different forms of light that the synchrotron produces can be used to support an astonishing variety of research. Diamond offers a wide range of experimental techniques and facilities supporting the life, physical and environmental sciences. Many different kinds of sophisticated analyses, on a vast array of materials - crystalline and non-crystalline solids, liquids and gases, and all kinds of complex materials - can benefit from synchrotron radiation. All of this scientific research produces some pretty big data, up to 20 terabytes a day to be precise (2015). And the amount of data being processed at Diamond is increasing rapidly.    

Diamond recently passed a big data milestone: a massive three petabytes have now been processed at the facility. A team from the University of Lund in Sweden visited Diamond’s I13 beamline to study the eyes of orchid bees in an attempt to determine how they navigate dense tropical forests. The orchid bees have a small brain the size of a sesame seed, but five eyes, two of which have thousands of lenses, make up for this lack of thinking power. This important research could help support advances in automated navigation technology. Their images of the tropical bee’s compound eye (below) demonstrates the intricacy of the data that research at Diamond produces. This data set exemplifies the Diamond use case that will benefit from using the features of SAGE.