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The Magic of XMaS

The Magic of XMaS

Developing innovative X-ray instruments for synchrotron radiation facilities

How can we look into the structure of individual crystals? Working with colleagues from the University of Liverpool, Professor Malcolm Cooper created this bending magnet beamline at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France. Known as ‘XMaS’ (X-ray Magnetic Scattering), over the last twenty years the facility has grown in importance for British scientists, solving far more questions than even its creators thought possible.

The challenge

Building this cutting-edge technology required expertise from across the sciences. Off-the-shelf components alone were not enough to capture the range of conditions and environments needed to study the broad range of scientific challenges brought by our users. The team had to research and build new infrastructure and continually innovate and upgrade to allow XMaS to exploit the widest possible range of techniques and allow their users to tackle the broadest range of scientific challenges.

Our approach

Professor Cooper and the team built XMaS to be as simple to use as possible, whilst delivering the highest impact to users from Britain, Europe and around the world. A key part of the success of XMaS is the development of sample environments to enable in situ and operando studies to probe samples under realistic and technologically relevant conditions. During the experiments, environmental conditions under which artefacts may be subjected to can be simulated - this could be temperature, pressure, humidity or even chemical environments. Even in museum storage, environmental conditions can cause some degree of degradation.

Conditions that can be applied to sample environments include:

  • Applying large magnetic fields (up to four Tesla from a superconducting magnet) and electric field (10kV/m)

  • Using a range of bespoke and tailored environmental cells to control humidity and apply gases and liquids to sample surfaces

  • Controlling temperature from as low as < 1K to more than 1,000K.

All of this has been achieved using an extended energy range (<5 keV) which exploits much lower energies than comparable instruments worldwide, eventually reaching as low as 2.3 keV allows the study of biological samples and novel energy materials.

Our impact

XMaS, under the leadership of Professor Tom Hase at Warwick and Professor Chris Lucas at Liverpool, continues to have a wide range of users from across the material science communities and now has the status of a National Research Facility. Similar facilities around the world have benefited from technology created by XMaS with our industrial partners having sold XMaS-based instruments with a turnover in excess of £750,000.

More laboratories now run more experiments, in less time and at a lower cost by adopting XMaS systems. Thanks to its adaptable design, other disciplines have benefited from the facility. For example, by mimicking different environments, XMaS has helped museum curators to track decay in shipwrecks such as the Mary Rose and shown dental researchers, through analysis of tooth enamel, how our species evolved out of Africa. The list of uses for XMaS and its technology will only continue to grow as the XMaS beamline is reconfigured and upgraded once again to make full use of the new and enhanced ESRF x-ray source.

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