Diamond Active Materials Laboratory

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Delivering new opportunities for active materials research at Diamond Light Source: an Active Materials Laboratory.

PI: Prof Fred Mosselmans
Understanding structural change in materials due to operation and radiation damage is a major challenge for the nuclear industry and the academics working in this field. Scientific research is essential to provide evidence and support in decision-making, for instance when reviewing ageing infrastructure and making decisions to extend its lifetime or when designing brand new nuclear facilities. Diamond already offers analytical instruments for active materials research. The construction of a new dedicated Active Materials Laboratory building will significantly improve the capabilities for researchers ranging from those involved in construction materials for nuclear energy facilities to waste management.


Increased knowledge of active materials is essential for the community in many ways. It may concern how materials behave under radiation, such as engineering materials used in nuclear power stations. The UK is currently embarking on a new nuclear build programme, with large reactors in various stages of development and the small modular reactor programme beginning. This will call for advanced materials development and work on new fuels.

Other important aspects are to ensure safe storage and understanding interactions with the environment in decommissioning old sites of the UK's nuclear legacy.

The new Active Materials Laboratory

Aerial view of Diamond Light Source

Overhead view of Diamond Light Source

© Diamond Light Source

The new building will have both wet and dry laboratories equipped for handling a wide range of active materials. There will also be a counting room for active materials to be characterised and a secure storage as appropriate.  

The dry laboratory will house an argon glove box with an inbuilt microscope. This will enable sample cells, such as a bespoke cell for use in a loading rig on I12, to be assembled on-site before being taken in appropriate containment to a beamline. There will also be a fume hood containing a furnace so samples can be treated offline before being studied on a beamline.

The wet laboratory will house an argon glove box for handling samples that need to be kept dry and oxygen-free such as molten salts, a Coy anaerobic chamber for handling wet anaerobic samples, a fume hood, a centrifuge, and chemical store cupboards for common solvents and acids.

Beamline I12 and DIAD are investing in in situ loading rigs with tension, compression and cyclic capability. These will have a 10 kN capacity for time-resolved tomography and imaging. This 10 kN load capacity was specified to accommodate the broadest possible range of user requirements, from soft biomaterials and polymers to high strength engineering alloys. Bespoke cells are being procured to safely contain samples to go in the I12 rig. This rig will be fitted out with a furnace to enable in situ testing of active material under controlled environments at temperatures up to at least 800oC.

New possibilities for users

Researcher loading sample onto beamline

Callum Robinson, University of Manchester PhD student, demonstrating the loading of a sample containing uranium onto Diamond’s I20-scanning beamline

© Diamond Light Source

With the new laboratory, users will be able to manipulate and prepare (very) active and also relatively shortlived samples to study them at Diamond. Users will be able to do experiments at Diamond that were previously impossible in the UK. Being able to load samples into suitable sample cells means that active materials properties can be studied under temperatures and particular atmospheres. It is necessary to understand the impact of prolonged radiation on the mechanical performance of a range of materials such as graphite and Zircaloy used in fission and fusion facilities. 

Understanding the corrosion impact on radionuclide behaviour in encapsulated or enclosed form is vital in understanding the state of our current waste stockpile and making the most economical choices in its handling and disposal. Understanding the future behaviour of the UK's proposed geological disposal facility requires intimate knowledge of the interaction of radionuclides with the materials used in the construction of the facility. Furthermore, being able to run long-term experiments on site for sampling at suitable intervals and also the ability to prepare solutions on-site and manage the samples post-experiment for further non-synchrotron study will add crucial capability.
An example of the type of work this will make more straightforward is the recent study “Formation of a U(VI)-persulfide complex during environmentally relevant sulfidation of iron (oxyhydr)oxides"  by Townsend et al. in Environmental Science and Technology (http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.9b03180), where they found the presence of persulfide species which has implications for the transport of uranium around a GDF in certain conditions.


When the labs open, currently planned for September 2021, access for Diamond synchrotron users will be by making a request when submitting their experimental risk assessment. Access to non-synchrotron users will also be possible via the Diamond Offline Laboratory Access scheme. For any questions please contact fred.mosselmans@diamond.ac.uk.

NNUF funded user access scheme for the Diamond Active Materials Laboratory

The NNUF funded user access scheme is open to UK-based university researchers. Diamond do not charge facility access fees for peer-reviewed academic research, but there may be other costs associated with your time at Diamond (namely sample transport and T&S) for which you may like to apply for NNUF support.

Workflow to follow when applying for access and funding for the Diamond Active Materials Laboratory

To apply for use of the Active Materials Laboratory as part of an experimental programme on the synchrotron, you should apply as usual via the Diamond user office, and follow the normal Diamond application process. If you are successful in your application to Diamond, T&S for three users for both beamtime and use of the Active Materials Lab immediately prior to synchrotron use, will be covered by Diamond.

You may wish to apply for NNUF funding in the following cases:

1.    To apply for T&S/sample transport to DLS when accessing the Active Materials Laboratory without using the synchrotron, please follow the workflow laid out on the access page of this website (i.e. first discuss the practical feasibility of your research with Diamond via their Offline Laboratories scheme, and then complete the NNUF application form for T&S/sample transport funding).

2.    To cover sample transport to DLS. (You must have already secured time at Diamond via their user office for the synchrotron + Active Materials Lab, or this could be part of your request for NNUF funding for standalone use of the Active Materials Laboratory under case 1).

3.    To cover T&S for a further visit or visits to the Active Materials Laboratory, in addition to one visit immediately prior to awarded beamtime. (Please mention that you will require this additional visit or visits when you put in your initial application for beamtime via their user office, so that Diamond can schedule time for this).

4.    If you wish to apply for more than three users to attend a session in the active laboratory immediately followed by beamtime. If you are successful in your application to Diamond, funding for three users will be covered by Diamond as usual, but T&S for any more than three individuals would need to be funded by NNUF. (Please mention that you will require the presence of these additional researcher(s) when you submit your initial application for beamtime via their user office, so that Diamond is aware that they may be in attendance).


In order to avoid multiple levels of scrutiny of your proposed work, and recognising that Diamond rigorously peer-review beamtime proposals, if you have been awarded beamtime by Diamond it is expected that reasonable costs for sample transport and/or T&S for extra users/visits will be funded by NNUF without requiring a separate application. In order to arrange this funding, please forward to francesca.mcgowan@materials.ox.ac.uk the email you receive from the Diamond user office granting you beamtime at Diamond, explaining clearly which of the cases listed above applies to you. (If you are applying for four or more researchers to attend, please include in your email to francesca.mcgowan@materials.ox.ac.uk a clear scientific case for why this is required, which the NNUF Management Group will assess before releasing T&S funds).

For case 1 where a beamline application will not have been completed and reviewed, you will need to complete the NNUF application form.

The NNUF Management Group will transfer any sample transport funds (case 2) and T&S (cases 1, 3 and 4) directly to your institution.

After your time in the lab

Please note that after you have completed your access you will be asked, as a condition of receiving funding from the NNUF access scheme, to:

•    Complete a feedback form detailing the research undertaken, the number of days for which you used the facility, how many members of your research team took part in the experiment etc.

•    Cite NNUF in any publications, reports, patents or other “outputs” which result from your research, and notify the NNUF Management Group (by emailing francesca.mcgowan@materials.ox.ac.uk) when any such “outputs” occur. This is in addition to acknowledging Diamond in the normal way. Please respond in a timely manner to enquiries from the NNUF Management Group on these matters, as this information is required for our reporting to EPSRC and the UK government.

Further information

Please do feel free to contact Francesca McGowan, NNUF Administrator (francesca.mcgowan@materials.ox.ac.uk) if you are thinking of applying for access to the Diamond Active Materials Laboratory and have any questions about the access/funding process – we would be more than happy to help and advise.

© Diamond Light Source.