Protective covers from Beakbane will help scientists at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron facility, in their quest to push back the frontiers of medical knowledge.

The first cover has just been installed on the experimental table of the newly upgraded I04 beamline, which will go back online in July; two more covers will follow for use on the similar beamlines I02 and I03.

One of our most powerful tools in life science research, the Diamond synchrotron at Harwell accelerates electrons to near light speed to generate brilliant beams of light ranging in wavelength from infra-red to X-rays.

The light from the synchrotron is diverted off into a number of beamlines where it is targeted on experimental samples that are used for academic and industry research.

Beamline I04 is one of five beamlines dedicated to macromolecular X-ray crystallography (MX), a technique that can reveal the detailed structure of complex organic molecules, such as proteins and DNA structures.

Work on samples including viruses, enzymes and antibodies has already led to breakthroughs in areas as diverse as preventing tooth decay, improving antibiotics, finding better anti-cancer drugs and increasing our understanding of HIV so that treatments can be developed.

The Beakbane covers enclose the positioning mechanism under the tables that support the experimental samples, fitting between the granite base and the moving steel platform. They limit access to the high quality motion stages used for accurate positioning of the table providing protection to both people and equipment and give a clean aesthetic appearance to the experimental area by covering up essential cables.

As well as being robust and easy on the eye, the covers also have to meet another important requirement; they have to be able to stand up to rigorous decontamination procedures after some experiments.

One MX beamline has been designed to provide laboratory facilities (biosafety category 3) for researchers to work with bacteria and viruses; one of the safety requirements is the ability to purge the whole experimental area with hydrogen peroxide vapour, a strong bleach. The research ultimately provides insight into how these pathogens cause disease and can lead to new or better treatments.

Working with the technical staff at Diamond, Beakbane’s development laboratory researched suitable materials, concluding that some standard materials would not stand up to repeated exposure to hydrogen peroxide. The solution was a three-sided folding concertina cover made from a combination of double-sided PVC coated nylon for the bellows, polyester thread to stitch the bellows together, and stainless steel end plates. Each cover measures 1410 by 825mm and extends from 380 to 480mm in height.

Aerial view of the Diamond Light Source, at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on the Harwell Science & Innovation campus in Oxfordshire, 12th June 2010
Aerial View of Diamond Light Source, the UK’s National Synchrotron Facility

Beakbane can draw on its wealth of experience and wide product range to develop bespoke systems for almost any application. Its bellows and protective covers are used in applications as diverse as water treatment, railway locomotives, machine tools, radiotherapy equipment and nuclear fuel processing facilities.

The type of folding concertina cover used at Diamond is also used on profiling machines, metrology equipment, lathes, test rigs, linear drives and other precision mechanisms. It can protect the equipment from dust, abrasive particles, contaminants and tampering, while ensuring that the moving parts are safely enclosed.

Mike Southwell, the Managing Director of Beakbane, commented: “One of our great strengths is the way we can draw on our wide range of experience, development facilities and product portfolio to come up with a system for almost any application. We are delighted that Diamond came to us to find a solution to their problem and that we are playing a small part in research that could improve the lives of millions of people.”