National science facility at Harwell gets £500m

The Diamond Light Source, a ground-breaking science facility at Harwell Science and Innovation has been granted a £500 million upgrade fund.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology together with Wellcome, one of the world’s largest biomedical charities, announced approval for Diamond-II – an innovative update and expansion programme to the UK’s national synchrotron, which is part of a major investment drive in cutting-edge facilities to keep UK researchers and innovators at the forefront of discovery and help address global challenges.  

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, the Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP, said: “Our national synchrotron may fly under the radar as we go about our daily lives, but it has been crucial to some of the most defining discoveries in recent history – from kickstarting Covid drug development that allowed us to protect millions of Britons to advancing treatment for HIV. 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.”

Sir Adrian Smith, Chair of the Board of Diamond Light Source and President of the Royal Society comments: “We are delighted that the government and the Wellcome Trust have agreed this substantial investment in science infrastructure which will ensure the UK is at the forefront of world class science.  This investment in Diamond-II will strengthen the UK’s global scientific leadership and confirms the UK’s commitment to building on the success Diamond has achieved so far.”

The overall transformational Diamond-II upgrade will take several years of planning and implementation. This will include a “dark period” of 18 months during which there will be no synchrotron light for the user community, followed by a period to fully launch the new facility with three new flagship beamlines and major upgrades to many other beamlines.

Dr Richard Walker, Senior Responsible Owner for Diamond-II comments: “I am very pleased that the UK Government, together with Wellcome, have now approved the upgrade. Given that many other similar facilities around the world are carrying out, or planning, similar upgrades, without the Diamond-II upgrade we would eventually become uncompetitive and enter a rapid decline, to the detriment of UK science and innovation.”

detriment of UK science and innovation.

UKRI announced last June 2022 an initial investment of £81.5 million over three years working towards Diamond-II. With its first year of preliminary funding, the Diamond-II programme successfully passed the UK Government’s Outline Business Case milestone in November 2021 and has now passed full business case approving the total project cost of £519.4M.

Chief Research Programmes Officer at Wellcome, Cheryl Moore, said:  “Diamond Light Source is an example of how investment in critical research infrastructure leads to scientific innovation. 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. 

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 wellbeing.”

Executive Chair of the Science and Technology Facilities Council and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Champion for Infrastructure, Professor Mark Thomson, said: “The UK is home to incredibly talented researchers, but this alone is not sufficient to stay at the forefront of globally competitive science.

It is essential that we also invest in world-class research infrastructure programmes that provide our researchers with the necessary tools to work at the cutting edge. 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.”

The full upgrade programme will lead to new potential for the UK:

  • open up new pathways for materials research and accelerating drug development.  
  • offer real-time insights into processes such as advanced manufacturing and the performance of next-generation batteries and much more as Diamond science is incredibly relevant to a broad range of societally relevant technologies.

This year marks 16 years of Diamond Light Source delivering science and innovation to the worldwide science community and 21 years since it was set up in 2002.

 Sir Adrian, adds: “We are securing the next decades for Diamond through this upgrade which is due to be delivered by 2030. We are entering a new era of opportunity with the advent of fourth generation synchrotrons. This will be a massive transformation of our capabilities. Progress in accelerator technology means Diamond-II will offer the scientific community in academia and industry the opportunity to exploit much brighter beams and an increased coherence over a large energy range on all our beamlines plus additional beamlines. It will help inspire the next generation of STEM professionals and create new opportunities for researchers in universities, research institutes and industry, ultimately having a lasting impact on our society and the economy.”

A recent update to the study led by Technopolis and Diamond estimates a cumulative monetised impact of at least £2.6 billion from the UK’s synchrotron, reflecting very favourably with the £1.4 billion investment made in the facility (2003-2022); a cost that is less than a cup of coffee as each UK taxpayer contributes only £2.45 a year towards it. 

This Socio-Economic Impact study included example case studies demonstrating the impact and breadth of Diamond research achievements such as: 

  • time-critical data and resources for improved public understanding of COVID-19;  
  • research of an enzyme that degrades plastic;  
  • a new synthetic vaccine for the virus causing foot-and-mouth disease; 
  • thermal energy storage solutions to reduce CO2 emissions and domestic fuel bills; 
  • improving the lifetime of engineering components like turbine blades by studying residual stress profiles; 
  • characterisation of energy materials and catalysts for sustainable technologies.