£500m upgrade for Diamond Light Source science facility in Oxfordshire

Government investment for leading facility that kickstarted development of drugs to combat Covid among other key contributions to medical science. 

Based in Harwell in Oxfordshire, Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national ‘synchrotron’, a sort of giant microscope capable of producing light some 10bn times brighter than the Sun. This cutting-edge technology has been used in a wide range of research, from looking at ways to extend the life of such machinery as turbine blades to examining fragments of ancient fossils. It has also helped to discover new materials for the electronic and renewable industries.

Photo of Diamond Light Source Facility by Wyn Griffiths

Photo of Diamond Light Source Facility by Wyn Griffiths

But the facility is probably best known for is extraordinary contribution to health science. Research conducted at Diamond Light Source in 2020 helped in determining the atomic structure of key drug targets of SARS‑CoV‑2 – the virus responsible for COVID-19 – and contributed to the development of vaccines and treatments. 

The newly announced £519m funding for the Diamond-II upgrade will ensure the facility can continue to build on this impressive work. The money has been provided through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Wellcome Trust.  

The upgrade involves construction of a new and even brighter synchrotron machine, and is expected to be completed in 2030. This improved facility will then help to accelerate drug development, offer real-time insights to help in the advancement of manufacturing and enable further study into improving the performance of next-generation batteries – among other potential applications. 

Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, says: ‘‘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 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.’ 

Cheryl Moore, Chief Research Programmes Officer at Wellcome, adds: ‘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 well-being.’ 

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