Call to secure future of north-west science base


Call to secure future of north-west science base

Scientists and engineers at the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire today (Friday) congratulated their Oxfordshire colleagues at the Diamond Light Source on securing extra funding, but warned that continued uncertainty over their own future leaves the UK’s scientific community on rocky ground.

The comments follow this morning’s announcement by Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science and Innovation, that a second tranche of funding has been awarded to the Diamond project for the next phase of the third generation synchrotron.

On behalf of 270 members working at the Cheshire laboratory, the scientists’ union Prospect said uncertainty over the anticipated closure date of the UK’s existing synchrotron radiation source at Daresbury had led to fears that an insufficient overlap between the two facilities will bring many world class research programmes to a halt. An announcement over the closure date due last month has been postponed.

Dr Steve Bennett, Prospect representative at the laboratory, said: "When Lord Sainsbury gave the Diamond project the green light in 2000 the understanding within the research community was that there would be at least a two-year overlap between the closure of the synchrotron radiation source at Daresbury and the first new beamlines being built at Diamond.

"As these are not due to be operational until 2007 at the earliest, it is essential that scientists working with synchrotron radiation technology have access to a facility in the UK to minimise the impact on current research programmes. Any decision to close the Daresbury facility earlier than anticipated could hand the initiative to other countries."

The union fears the uncertainty will prove to be damaging both corporately and individually. "In addition," said Bennett, "the lack of any mechanism to ‘transfer’ staff between Diamond and public sector research means scientists, engineers and technical experts will have to apply to Diamond Light Source Ltd for jobs, risking a loss of skill and expertise."

As well as ensuring adequate overlap research facilities until the Diamond project is fully functional, the Daresbury Laboratory is leading the development of light source technology by building the prototype of the fourth generation of light source technology, 4GLS.

4GLS will be the most advanced light source of its type in the world producing high intensity, high brightness pulsed light beams, over a million, million, million times brighter than a household light bulb.

But having secured the funding to build the prototype, Daresbury scientists remain on tenterhooks as they wait for an official commitment that 4GLS full build will go ahead at their site.

"Daresbury is a centre of excellence for cutting edge accelerator design. We urge Lord Sainsbury to confirm that the forward planning necessary to provide the funding to build 4GLS has been undertaken and that, if it goes ahead, it will be sited here," said Bennett.

"The North-West Development Agency has invested £25m on the creation of a science park here but its success as a nucleus to incubate new science and technology is dependent on being able to say there is a viable future for the lab."

Notes to editors:
4GLS will produce very short pulses of extremely high brightness light which will enable researchers to study how molecules work, for example by following chemical reactions as they happen, looking at clusters of atoms or even examining the spin of electrons.

In the concept for the 4GLS, the light is produced by a combination of two new technologies, energy recovery linac and free electron lasers which together result in light up to a million times more intense than conventional storage ring technology used in all current ‘third generation’ synchrotron sources.

Because it produces high intensity, low energy light researchers can examine the processes within living cells without destroying them and therefore, for example, study how drugs kill diseased cells.

The Diamond machine design was undertaken at the Daresbury Laboratory.