A group of three PhD students from Cranfield Forensic Institute finished a four day visit to DESY, the German electron synchrotron in Hamburg. The group was led by Marleen Vetter, whose PhD project explores novel aspects of polymers under stress. This was this first time the scientists at DESY had used their state of the art X-ray Raman system to look at this sort of material, and they were very interested to see how it would perform.

DESY was founded 60 years ago as the German national accelerator facility to understand the building blocks of the universe. Its impressive history includes world firsts such as, the creation of the antiproton shortly after it opened, and the discovery of the gluon in 1979. Extremely high intensity X-rays were produced as a by-product of these early experiments and scientists noticed that these were far brighter than could be created in the laboratory. They soon realised that these X-rays could be used for the advanced and highly precise analysis of materials. The PETRA III accelerator at DESY is now the brightest X-ray source of its kind anywhere in the world, and has a suite of techniques to analyse a wide range of materials. Many of these techniques can be thought of as ‘high end’ versions of the instruments you would see in many forensic laboratories.

Emily, Sammie and Marleen outside their control hutch at PETRA III DESY

Marleen was joined by two former Forensic Programme students, Emily Arnold (Forensic Engineering and Science) and Sammie Davies (Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology), and the three of them and their supervisors including myself (Prof David Lane) and Dr Matthew Healy had to work in shifts around the clock to get everything done.

Marleen has worked really hard and has managed every aspect of this trip, from writing the successful grant application and constructing the test samples, to planning work schedules. Once the scientists at DESY had trained Marleen, Emily and Sammie on the equipment they were left in charge of it to collect Marleen’s data.  

Marleen said “It was great to be able to use the system, the team here at DESY has been really helpful, and I’d like to thank them for this opportunity”. The group visited Hamburg in mid-March immediately before the laboratory postponed all further visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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