Cutting Edge Technology That Helps Scientists


Cutting Edge Technology That Helps Scientists

Scientists use many types of cutting-edge technologies in their everyday work, which help them make new discoveries and uncover more secrets about how the world works. These technologies have been developed over the years and are incredibly advanced, although new methods of analysis and pieces of lab equipment are being introduced all the time.

Even the humble microscope is not so humble these days, and can utilise different light sources, multiple lenses and the latest cameras and recording equipment to make imaging far more advanced. Indeed, scientists can now see into the inner-most workings of living cells and create 3D images of what goes on inside them. Furthermore, science has become a much more open arena. Gone are the days of chemists working alone in darkened rooms, and instead, hundreds or even thousands of researchers can collaborate and work alongside each other in state-of-the-art facilities that take up acres of space.

One such provision is the Diamond Light Source national synchrotron facility in the UK. Located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, the multimillion-pound facility houses several beamlines, where scientists can use beams of light, from infrared to X-rays, in their research. The centre was opened in 2007 and is being developed in three phases. Currently in the second stage, it has 18 operational beam lines, with four more under construction and a further 10 planned by 2017. It is free at point of access for scientists to use, providing their results are in the public domain.

Around 2,000 researchers currently use the facility to conduct all types of experiments in the fields of structural biology, health and medicine, solid-state physics, materials and magnetism, nanoscience, electronics, earth and environmental sciences, chemistry, cultural heritage, energy and engineering. Companies including Rolls Royce, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline are benefiting from this community science facility.

The synchrotron itself is can produce very intense beams of light, which are then filtered along the beamlines and used in individual experiments. This gives scientists access to the environmental conditions they need without having to find the money for their own equipment and facility.

Another piece of cutting-edge technology that is currently having a huge impact on scientific research is the Large Hadron Collider. Based at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) organisation in Geneva, and running for 27km in a circular tunnel 100m beneath the Swiss/French border, the large collider of hadrons works by accelerating two beams of atomic particles in opposite directions around the tunnel. When they reach their maximum speed they collide, which creates thousands of new particles that scientists can identify and track.

Millions of collisions and therefore new particles occur every second, allowing researchers to peer deeper into how matter is created, effectively looking back in time to the formation of the universe. The Large Hadron Collider is much more advanced than previous collision machines, and could recreate the same conditions and energies that existed as the Big Bang happened. In May 2011, scientists were able to capture and hold anti-matter, the exact opposite of matter, for an impressive 16 minutes. This should open up new discoveries about how particles are formed and react, and could eventually reveal the secret to life itself.

Rachel is a science blogger specialising in scientific research and development.

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