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Daresbury SRS: End of an era

Updated Monday 3rd March 2008

Paul Hatherley feels some sadness about the closure of the Daresbury SRS facility.

Mixed feelings at the end of this run. The pressure of working on facilities like this is immense. The facility runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and costs thousands of pounds a day per experiment. You therefore have to squeeze as much out as you can in the short time available. Imagine the relief then when it’s all over and you can get back to a normal life.

Now the sadness. The SRS at Daresbury started work in 1981, and I did my first research here on molecular physics as a student four years later. I’ve had many programmes running here over the years on many topics, culminating in this work on Heritage Science. Sadly though, this will be my last time here. The SRS will be shut down for the last time later this year as many science programmes move to the new synchrotron radiation source, DIAMOND, near Oxford. It’s not all about the loss of a superb machine (which, frankly, is showing its age), but about the loss of community. Science is a human activity, and nowhere more so at places like Daresbury. I guess that’s what I, and many others, will miss most. No more chats over coffee, no more visiting other groups to “borrow” tools, tape, string or whatever, and perhaps worst of all, no more visits to the Ring ‘O’ Bells, the pub in Daresbury village!

Drinking in a pub Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Paul Hatherly
In the Ring ‘O’ Bells – the Daresbury “watering hole”

Oh yes, Daresbury village – I haven’t told you anything about this yet! Well, to all outward appearances, it’s a normal small English village – a pub, a church, one main street and a handful of houses. Nothing remarkable until you look at the east window in the Church.

Alice In Wonderland stained glass, Daresbury church Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Paul Hatherly
Part of the east window in All Saint’s Church, Daresbury

Recognise these characters? They are the Mad Hatter, the Mad March Hare and the Dormouse from Alice in Wonderland. Why here? In the mid nineteenth century, the vicar was one Charles Dodgson whose first son, also Charles, became a respected mathematician at Oxford. This Charles is better known as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland! So here is Daresbury’s other claim to fame as the birthplace of arguably one of the most influential writers in English! Perhaps some of his ideas have rubbed off here? There frequently seems to be an “Alice in Wonderland” quality to some of the things that go on…

So one chapter is closing. I hope another will start soon, as we take our Heritage Science work to DIAMOND. There, we will be able to look even more closely at our materials, and get down to levels of detail not possible at the SRS. Another important aspect DIAMOND will give us – does all this analysis cause any lasting damage to the artefacts? Not just visible (cracks, melting, change in colour etc) but invisible – except under the microscope of synchrotron radiation.

We’re heading home now, but the hard work has just begun. Over my next few posts, I’ll take you through the distillation and analysis of our results, and hopefully give you a sneaky peek at some of the highlights.

Oh for a good night’s sleep now…


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