Light fantastic

Diamond Light Source is a new scientific facility being built in South Oxfordshire on the Harwell Chilton science campus. This giant machine, called a synchrotron, is a series of super microscopes. It is the largest science facility to be built in the UK for 30 years. It is housed in a futuristic doughnut-shaped building that covers the area of five football pitches. Diamond will ultimately host up to 40 cutting-edge research stations, supporting life, physical and environmental sciences.

Diamond will produce x-ray, infrared and ultra-violet beams of exceptional brightness. These highly focused beams of light will enable scientists and engineers to probe deep into the basic structure of matter and materials, answering questions about everything from the building blocks of life to the origin of the planet.

Diamond will be the best medium-energy x-ray source in the world and will produce X-rays with energies between 100 and 100,000 electron volts. Shocking!

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Our survey says...

Engineering staffing company EPCglobal recently conducted research into engineers' attitudes to working in the Middle East. With the issue of security dominating the headlines, the findings determine to what extent security affects engineers' understanding of the region.

Sixty-five per cent of all engineers think the region has become more dangerous for overseas engineers since 2003. Civil engineers are amongst the least convinced of this however, and are also more critical about media coverage of the region, with 59 per cent believing that reporting exaggerates threats.

Of the female engineers surveyed, 72 per cent recommended that other engineers should work there. However, of all female engineers, 25 per cent wouldn't take a job there

Tobias Read, CEO at EPCglobal said: "Security is one of many considerations for engineers assessing opportunities to advance their careers overseas. A sense of perspective is, however, difficult to obtain with a focus on conflict in media coverage of the Middle East, so we sought the opinions of experienced engineers."

Text messages

New digital imaging techniques have allowed historians to read and analyse age-old texts more successfully than ever before. Dr Melissa Terras is part of an academic team that has developed engineering solutions to decipher these ancient texts.

In the Seventies, archaeologists digging at Vindolanda (a Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall) began to unearth thousands of documents dating from around 100AD. These texts are the largest source of information about the Roman occupation of Britain, and are used extensively by historians, linguists and archaeologists. However, many of these documents remain illegible due to their physical condition.

Since 1997, the Department of Engineering Science and the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents at the University of Oxford have been working together to develop advanced image-processing and artificial-intelligence techniques that will enable historians to analyse and read the Vindolanda texts more efficiently.

Merging engineering solutions with knowledge gathered from experts in Classics has resulted in a system that can take an image of a Vindolanda text and produce an interpretation of the words.

The eyes have it

Optos was founded in 1992 by Douglas Anderson after his then five-year-old son went blind in one eye. As a result, Anderson set out to develop a patient-friendly, non-invasive retinal image product that produced a digital, ultra-wide field image of the retina in a single capture.

Many indicators of eye disease are first exhibited in the retina; these include diabetes, glaucoma and certain cancers. Retinal imaging is therefore an important tool for screening and diagnosis, as early detection can save sight and sometimes lives.

Optos's patented scanning laser system creates a virtual scanning point inside the patients' eye. Two independent, low-powered lasers are combined into a single beam that is projected onto a patient's retina and does a 200-degree scan. Light reflected back from the retina is returned through the scanning system and converted into electrical pulses by highly sensitive photo diodes. These impulses are then digitised and formatted to create an image of the retina: the optomap Retinal Exam. Clever stuff! So clever that Optos was the 2006 winner of The Royal Academy of Engineering's MacRobert Award.