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October 2008 – Largest Diffraction Pattern in the World! October 8, 2008

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October saw the start of a new project to create a hanging depicting the diffraction pattern of one of the protein crystals discovered at Diamond.

The aim is to make a piece of community art work approximately 2.70m x 2.70m in which 5000 people participate. This hanging will be finished for display at the AAAs Science Festival which will be held in Chicago in February 2009.

The first outing for the piece was the Fashion and Embroidery Show at Harrogate where Designs for Life were on display. Here over 1000 people contributed their stitches to the project giving us a really fantastic start.

September 2008 – Festival of Science September 28, 2008

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The Festival of Science, held in Liverpool (European City of Culture this year)  began for us on 9th September with a reception hosted by Diamond,  Daresbury and STFC at the Bluecoat Gallery. Here are some of the final pieces of artwork were displayed.

These stainless steel sculptures made in collaboration with Paula Groves include textiles printed with iron filings in magnetic patterns. Finally they will be sited in the atrium in Diamond House.

The wall panels below were inspired by the sail shapes of the Mary Rose were printed using iron pigments using pieces from the Diamond store. Backgrounds were stitched to echo the shadows created by the shapes. Frames made by Paula Groves.

Below is a detail of a 2.5meter hanging, again inspired by the sail shapes of the Mary Rose but the fabric is dyed using rust and shows the difference in the depths of shade obtainable by using this mineral.

The following day Diamond’s event, Worms Turn Detective! This was a series of three talks, the first, by Dr Mark Hodson of University of Reading explained how some earthworms can inhabit soil contaminated by metal and how they are assisting with the decontamination of this soil.

The second, by Dr Paul Schofield of Natural History Museum was looking at another solution to the same problem which was how phosphates, such as bonemeal, could immobilise the metal contamination.

Finally Dr Sam Shaw of University of Leeds presented on how toxic and radioactive contamination in the earth could be immobilised by the use of Green Rust. It is difficult to recreate condidions under which Green Rust is created as it requires low oxygen levels. However with the help of Diamond these conditions can be further investigated.

August 2008 – Work in Progress August 31, 2008

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My time at Diamond has been full of so many experiences and inspirations that they will inform my work for a long time to come. The following is a selection of drawings, photographs and samples from my sketchbook. Click on the image for a description.

June 2008 – Mary Rose June 28, 2008

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It was a beautiful sunny day when we set off for the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to see the Mary Rose, the historic artifacts that have been recovered from the vessel and visit the Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth.

Scientists are not only working on the preservation of the timbers from the Mary Rose itself but also these artifacts and regularly visit Diamond to check on the status of their work.  Since raising the vessel to the surface the oxidisation of the pyrites found in the fixings on the vessel and in many of the artifacts such as buckets or barrels, has caused acid which has adversly affected the timbers. In order to protect the wood from further deterioration, the team attempt to remove the pyrites before they turn to acid and the ship is continually sprayed to replace water.

Inspirational images taken at the Dockyard. Many thanks to Mark Jones and his team for their hospitality and assistance.

May 2008 May 19, 2008

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Have been having many thoughts about what I can do to tie the sciences from each of the beamlines up and provide a link between them and have finally come up with “The Project”.

This will be to look at iron in some of its forms. Iron after all makes up about 5% of the earth’s crust. Not only that, all the experiments I have looked at have involved iron in some form. From the largest meteorites to the tiniest particles in your brain, iron appears on the parchments of antiquity and in the timbers of the Mary Rose, in fact it is everywhere!

April 2008 – Parkinson’s Disease April 18, 2008

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Following my meeting with Caroline I am now specifically looking at where iron is found in the body and     any research is being done in this area. I go back to Liz Carpenter on the Protein Crysatlography beamline to see if there are any users looking at iron in the body that I could talk to.Unfortunately there isn’t at the moment and I come away wondering how I can find my link.

However, one thing I have found during my time at Diamond is that you cannot plan specific meetings with beamline scientists and users to look at science you are interested in. While they are working on the beamlines time is precious and very often work is confidential so I am doubly grateful whenever anyone can spare time to talk to me.

I am so lucky then when I am invited to meet with Joanna Collingwood from Keele University and Mark Davidson University of Florida who are comparing thin slices from a specific region in the brain from a group of 50% are healthy humans and 50% with Parkinson’s disease (see image right). Not only that, but the final piece in my jigsaw, they are looking at iron concentrations!
The brain region is called the substantia nigra, and contains an important group of brain cells called dopaminergic neurones. These neurones are important for many functions, including enabling us to make controlled voluntary movements (i.e. they are “motor neurones”).

A very exciting moment when they tell me they are looking at both the concentrations of iron and the different forms of iron (primarily different iron oxide structures) that are present in this region. It is already known that in Parkinson’s sufferers there are fewer dopaminergic neurones in the brain as they are destroyed, but there are higher concentrations of iron in this region, and within the remaining dopaminergic neurones. This research is looking at where exactly this extra iron is found (also a range of other metals including zinc, calcium, copper, and manganese).

Is it more concentrated in the living cells or dying cells, or in the support cells? How much the iron in these cells is contained in ferritin (primary iron storage protein, which is only a few nanometres in diameter), and how much is found in neuromelanin, which is a pigment that can bind iron, and that is found in the cell bodies of the dopaminergic neurones. Also when the iron is found, what type of iron compound is it?

April 2008 – Meteorites April 13, 2008

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Meeting with Paul Schofield who is working on a project investigating the decontamination of soil affected by metals from mining and industrial sites. Today he is looking at a fragment of meteorite as it many structural similarieties with the rocks here on earth.

The image on the right is a fragment from the Santa Catherina iron meteorite which fell to earth in Brazil between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago.

A meteorite is a fragment which has broken off an asteroid, a body which was formed at the same time as earth, also having a rocky surface and an iron nickel core with a molten layer around it. An iron meteorite is a piece from the core of the asteriod and can give insights into the secrets of our own planet’s core. A piece from the rocky surface would be known as a stony meteorite.

As the molten iron nickel in the asteroid cools and solidifies different patterns of the various metal compounds are formed, each pattern unique to the temperature, pressure, rate of cooling and the oxygen present at the time. In time, rust (iron oxide) is formed on the surface of the meteorite, this too can give an indication of the various compounds that exist underneath the rust. The patterns formed by these compounds during this cooling process are known as phases.

Following this discussion, I feel I would like to learn more about the work being done in this area. So I arrange to meet Caroline Smith who is the curator of meteorites at the Natural History Museum. These images are of some of the stoney and iron meteorites she showed me. The green material in the meteorite shown right is gem quality olivine otherwise known as peridot a semiprecious gem used extensively in jewellery.

The small white mineral grains that can be seen in the stony meteorite bottom left contain calcium and aluminium. They have been used to date our solar system.

I am fascinated by the age and the distances these meteorites have travelled. The cinema has portrayed them as huge pieces of rock that are potentially going to destroy the earth. How does this compare with the tiny crystals I have seen here in different formations and the iron compounds that I know are inside our bodies?


Many thanks to Caroline Smith and the NHS for their help. For more information, visit
Natural History Museum

March 2008 March 24, 2008

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More amazing conversations with scientists about materials they investigating on the beamlines. From meteorites to pigments every day is fascinating.

Once again though, I look at the scribbled notes and diagrams both my own and those the scientists have made to try and make clear to me these complicated processes. What happens to these fleeting moments when I not only comprehend the answer, but the question that I am asking so clumsily.

The only way this project makes sense is if there is some communication of these moments.

Time is flashing past and I only have insights into tiny parts of completely disparate areas of research which are only linked by this fantastic machine. I don’t want to be tied to one area and am searching for connections!

If only I can grasp the right questions, and keep on a single path then just maybe I will find a dialog that will stay with me and is worth communicating to a wider audience!

February 2008 – School Of Optometry Cardiff February 19, 2008

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Another month has passed and what have I done …

I have had a trip to a very modern minimal building in Cardiff, part of the University which houses the School of Optometry and Vision Services. Here (as well as part time film set for Dr. Who and Torchwood) PhD students and Professors study as well as performing research into eye diseases such as Keratoconis.

This research requires substantial amounts of funding, some of which is raised by the Eye Clinic, located on site and open the general public. In addition to performing eye examinations and dispensing, there are highly specialised clinics in low vision and assessing the needs of those who cannot communicate in the usual way. For more information regarding the Cardiff Eye Clinic see http://www.cf.ac.uk/optom/eyeclinic/index.html.

On a more scientific note, it was amazing to see their electron microscope, which sits on a bench in one of the labs! microscope.jpgThis is where the initial scientific investigation begins before progressing to the room sized beamlines at Diamond! The data from the Keratoconis experiments performed at Diamond in December has not yet been processed but I wonder how those images would compare to ones produced on the equipment here. Is this even possible and if so would they relate in any visible way to each other?

January 2008 January 31, 2008

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After what seems like an age for Christmas, I am back!

Have spent more time this month with the scientists discussing how they contribute to the analysis of the data, both in the setup of samples and beamlines and in processing the data to produce as accurate information as possible for the users. I have even been taken back to schoolgirl maths and relearnt integration calculus! Sheets of scribbled explanations, graphs and diagrams are produced to help me understand. For me, these are precious works of art in themselves, without the fluency of these delicate marks I would have no comprehension of this complicated new language.

I also saw a variety of the detectors that are used on the beamlines and watched how they are setup and calibrated.

detector1.jpgThe Germanium detector, checks the strength of the xray and the intensity of the patterns. It is used on the spectroscopy beamline. A small device which emits xrays is used to check the machine. The CCD detector works like a camera and creates organised patterns of the xrays, and the scintillator detectors shown here can be installed singly or as an array, and is used to count the dots on each pulse of light.

Other detectors which are built in these labs are so minute they can only be successfully assembled under a magnifying lamp, where the gold tape which carries the signal from the detector to the amplifier is positioned with patience and delicacy.

I feel at home in these labs, I can relate to the materials and tools used here and wonder if they could be used in the final pieces.

materials1.jpg

Coincidentally, there were some images of the detectors used at Cern in the newspaper this week, these are much larger than those at Diamond, but the component parts form fascinating symmetries and patterns. These inspire me further and next month I am hoping to be able to look inside the detectors and to use some of these same materials in my own work!