The UK’s first ambient-pressure soft X-ray beamline is helping scientists understand what happens at the interface between solids, vapours, and liquids under near-real life conditions.

At Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron, electrons whizz around faster than the speed of light producing a light billions of times brighter than the sun. Scientists can use this to gain deeper insights on pretty much any material from Old Master paintings to deadly viruses. It is here that Professor Georg Held has led the creation of VerSox, the UK’s first ever soft X-ray beamline capable of studying materials in ambient pressures.

The £6.2 million beamline (a lab within the synchrotron) allows users to study closely what happens at the interface between solids and vapours or liquids, under almost real-life conditions, instead of within a vacuum. Scientists can use it to get a more realistic understanding of chemical processes, such as those occurring within batteries or the catalytic converters that remove harmful gases from car exhaust fumes.

User groups have flocked to VerSox, not just from the UK but also Europe, America, Asia and Africa, and beamline time is always oversubscribed. So far it has delivered more than 7,000 hours of experimental time to academic and industrial users worldwide, including Johnson Matthey, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of catalytic converters.

What is more, Professor Held’s ingenious tweaks to VerSox, including self-cleaning mirrors and corrections to optics that help focus and steer the synchrotron radiation, have solved problems common to all beamlines. They have been adopted by other facilities in France, Sweden, Switzerland and Thailand, helping this expensive, cutting-edge technology to perform more efficiently worldwide.

Find out more

VerSoX branchline B07-B welcomes first users (press release, 28 May 2021)

VERSOX: An X-ray beamline to help industrial and academic scientists understand complex materials (YouTube video, 3m20)

View the full impact case study on the REF 2021 website: Development of synchrotron facilities at Diamond Light Source for ambient pressure X-ray spectroscopy