VELA bringing a new imaging capability for UK industry
19 Mar 2015




A new imaging capability for the UK was showcased today at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire


13 March 2015

A new imaging capability for the UK that could take materials and biological research beyond the limits of what is currently possible, and eventually generate ‘molecular movies’, was showcased today at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire, as part of the official launch of STFC’s newest electron beam accelerator - VELA, the Versatile Electron Linear Accelerator.

The VELA particle accelerator (Credit: STFC)

Academic and industrial researchers attended to see how they can benefit from this exciting new facility and how it could help them bridge the gap between proof-of-concept, prototypes and market ready products.

One of the industrial companies attending were Rapiscan Systems, a global provider of walk-through metal detectors and cargo-scanning x-ray machines, who have been one of the first organisations to use VELA to perform proof-of-concept experiments in its research into methods of generating three-dimensional X-ray images for more comprehensive cargo security screening.

Dr Edward Morton, Chief Technical Officer, Rapiscan Systems, said: “VELA has been the ideal place to successfully test our theories, and this would have been impossible anywhere else in the UK.Rapiscan Systems is committed to creating a secure future for the travelling public, and the development of new and innovative imaging techniques, such as those here at VELA, is key to achieving this. It’s very early days to tell what kind of impact this new emerging technology will have for our research, but we are very excited about the prospect of what we hope to achieve here in the near future.”

In October last year VELA achieved a UK first when it used ‘shutter speeds’ close to one ten-thousandth of a billionth of a second to achieve ‘ultrafast electron diffraction’. This is a technique which uses very short, fast pulses of electrons, to image the atomic structure of materials, atom by atom, without causing damage to materials that would be caused by traditional x-rays.In doing so, it became one of only a handful of sites globally with the capability to take this technique forward to the next level and generate ‘molecular movies’ – to see a chemical or biological reaction as it happens.

Professor Susan Smith explains VELA’s technology and its benefits to UK industry and research (Credit: STFC)

Professor Susan Smith, Head of STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory, said: “Achieving ultra-fast electron diffraction last year was a major milestone for STFC, and now we want to ensure that UK industry and researchers can benefit from this exciting new research tool for their research and product development.Today’s official launch of VELA is a fantastic opportunity to show how we can work with them at this development stage to ensure that the potential of this technique is fully realised to the benefit of the UK economy and society.”

Being able to understand the structure of a material and its properties has already led to numerous advances over the last 100 years. From the development of new drugs, to new technologies such as flat screen TVs and even better tasting chocolate; structural imaging has fundamentally underpinned advances in almost every aspect of modern day life.

Representatives from UCL, the University of St Andrews, The Max Planck Institute, SLAC and the University of York all took part in today’s event, which comprised a programme of talks exploring the value of this technology and its potential. Local MPs, Graham Evans, Andrew Miller and Derek Twigg also attended.

VELA is the result of £2.5m government investment into STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory for accelerator technology developments, as part of a series of investments across the Sci-Tech Daresbury science and innovation campus, one of the Government’s flagship Enterprise Zones.


Wendy Ellison
STFC Press Officer
Daresbury Laboratory
Tel: 01925 603232
Mob: 07919 548012

Images available

  • Image 1: The VELA particle accelerator (credit: STFC)

  • Image 2: Professor Susan Smith explains VELA’s technology and its benefits to UK industry and research (credit: STFC)

Images of the event are also available on request.

About VELA

The Versatile Electron Linear Accelerator (VELA) is a high performance, modular injector facility capable of delivering a highly stable, highly customisable, short pulse, high quality electron beam to a series of test enclosures. The new facility will deliver a capability for the cutting edge development and qualification of advanced accelerator systems, enabling industry to expedite their technology development from prototypes to market ready products. In doing so it has the potential to help revolutionise the use of accelerators in priority areas such as:

  • healthcare (imaging, radiotherapy development and sterilization)

  • security (cargo scanning)

  • energy (development of components for accelerator driven sub critical reactors)

  • industrial processing (development of machines for polymer crosslinking and rheological modification)

  • environment (water treatment and environmental clean-up)

  • and science as well as opening up further high technology commercial markets.

VELA accelerates electrons to high energies, which can then be used to test samples of material, produce images, or test the operation of novel accelerator components. Electron beams can also be used to modify or improve the properties of a material by causing changes to its molecular structure.

VELA produces an electron beam of exceptionally high quality, exceeding that of any commercially available facility. This feature is aiding the development of new and compact accelerator technologies, opening up opportunities in the UK for high-value manufacturing of commercially-ready accelerator systems.