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By Alison Boyle on

A Grand Day Out At RAL

My favourite part of curatorial work is adding new objects to the collections. Aside from the warm fuzzy glow of knowing that something I’ve acquired will be stumbled upon by future generations of curators, visitors and researchers, it’s always an opportunity to find out something new and meet interesting people. 

Recently, I visited the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory for a whistle-stop tour. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on a project to bring our physics collections up to date, and RAL is a great place to start. RAL’s scientists and engineers are involved in projects worldwide, and the on-site facilities are used for a huge range of applications, from studying photosynthesis to analysing timbers from the Mary Rose

First stop was the giant Vulcan laser, one of the world’s most powerful. The whole thing is too big to photograph but you can take a virtual tour here

Keeping an eye on things in Vulcan's control room (Credit: Alison Boyle)

Then on to the Diamond Light Source. This is a synchrotron, accelerating electrons to generate high-intensity light for use in experiments. This animation explains how it works. Diamond’s electron storage ring is more than 500m around – here’s a bit of it. 

This photo was taken standing on top of Diamond's electron storage ring, the white structure curving off in the distance. The light beams are directed to experiment rooms inside the yellow structures. Credit: Alison Boyle

Next stop was the Particle Physics Department, finding out about RAL’s involvement in the Large Hadron Collider’s CMS experiment. More about the LHC in a few weeks, as I’m off to CERN shortly. 

And finally on to ISIS, an accelerator which generates pulses of neutrons and muons to explore materials in detail. ISIS is even bigger than Diamond – here’s part of one of the halls. 

Inside one of the ISIS target halls. Protons are accelerated through the white structure and slam into a target inside the blue structure, generating muons and neutrons for experiments. Credit: Alison Boyle.

During the tour, my magpie-like curator’s eye noticed a few bits and pieces of interest to the museum, so if I can persuade their owners to part with them, you may be seeing them in our collections soon.  Thanks to Katy, Graeme, Cristina, Laura, Jen, Bruce and Chris for a great day!