Daresbury SRS: Cool stuff, nice pictures and real science

Updated Thursday, 28th February 2008
Initial results from the synchrotron radiation source show confirm an Egyptian link for the Roman paint.

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The run is well under way now. We’re well under way, and we have the first batch of data under our belts. There were, as always, a few early teething troubles and glitches on the first day – sticky motors and loose wires – but nothing ingenuity and gaffer tape couldn’t fix!

Our first target was some of the blue material that I showed you the other day. We identified some target x-ray energies, and looked at what light was emitted when the sample was irradiated. To give you a taster, here’s something hot-off-the-press! X-rays characteristic of silicon gave some very nice results, and have helped us identify the blue as Egyptian Blue (this is known to be a copper silicate).

Roman plaster in false colour
Blue-painted Roman plaster at Daresbury in false colour. The blue background is an optical microscope image, and the coloured spots show light emitted in the strip of paint which the x-rays hit. To give a sense of scale, the picture is about 4mm across.

In the picture, the green spots show where we had bluey-green light emitted by silicon dioxide – common sand! The red spots though correspond to chunks of blue material, and are where light in the far red and just beyond the red end of the spectrum (the “near infra-red”) is emitted. We now know that the blue contains silicon; more hard evidence for Egyptian Blue. This is rather rough and ready data, and over the next few weeks we will see this being refined into something that can be properly published. That’s another story, but for now let’s enjoy a rather pretty picture!

I promised to introduce you to some other people who do their research here. Here’s one of them, with the apparatus he’s using to look at fundamental structures of organic molecules. There is a tradition of international co-operation here, and Andrew Yencha from the University of New York at Albany has been working for many years with George King (Manchester University) and Michelle Siggel-King (Daresbury) on a wide range of topics.

Andrew Yencha

Andrew Yencha from New York – Daresbury is an internationally recognised facility!

Hopefully I can catch up with some more people for my next post.

Things are really getting busy now – the equipment is working more or less smoothly, and we’ve refined our plan in the light of our discoveries, so there’s plenty to get on with in the next few days. I’ll make my next post early next week, and that’ll be the last from Daresbury. Where we go from there will be the next chapter in this story.

Until next time…




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