The actor Sir Patrick Stewart admitted the technology was “a little above my pay grade” when he officially fired up a dual-beam ion accelerator in down-to-earth Huddersfield.
“I wouldn’t know a warp core breach from a space time continuum,” he said. “I just learn the lines and speak them.”
But he acknowledged that the device, the only one of its kind in a British classroom, was “quite extraordinary” and “a triumph” for Huddersfield University, which had developed it.
Sir Patrick, who was born down the Calder Valley in Mirfield and whose best-known role was as Capt Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, had the technology explained to him as he toured the two-storey laboratory that the university has purpose-built to house the machine.
He described it as “handsome and practical” and observed that it that it would bear scrutiny as a work of art, let alone science.
“It’s something to be extraordinarily proud of,” he said.
The equipment, funded by £3.5m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, can use ion beams to examine minute diamonds embedded in meteorites that are older than the solar system itself.
The accelerator, which the university has named MIAMI-2, is based on a previous model – still in service – that has been capable of investigating the effects of particles used in the nuclear industry. Its successor uses dual beams of electrically charged particles.
The university says there are few comparable facilities in the world, and has forged research collaborations with scientists in western Europe, Russia and the USA. For one study, nano-diamonds found in meteorites that landed in Siberia have been brought to Huddersfield for analysis.
Dr Jonathan Hinks, the university’s reader in radiation damage in materials, said: “You take a sample from a meteorite that lands on earth and you can then start to piece together where it’s been in the Cosmos for the last billion years.”
Sir Patrick, who is emeritus chancellor at Huddersfield, said he had been “overwhelmed” by the scale of growth at the campus over the last few years. The university has renamed its drama building in his honour, and he said yesterday that his association with it “stands on the top of everything else” he had achieved.