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Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Operated by STFC and located on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, it provides a thriving and collaborative environment for research in:

  • particle physics
  • space science
  • materials
  • astronomy
  • photon science
  • computational and e-science
  • biology
  • biomedicine
  • chemistry

Approximately 1,200 staff at RAL support the work of more than 10,000 scientists and engineers, chiefly from the university research community. RAL’s pioneering research in areas such as energy, security, healthcare and the environment addresses important challenges facing society.

How to find us

Key facts

RAL, and the wider Harwell Campus and Innovation Campus host some of the UK’s major scientific facilities including:

  • Central Laser Facility (CLF) – one of the world's leading laser facilities, its high power lasers can recreate the conditions inside stars while its small, compact lasers have medical, security and environmental applications

  • ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source – a pioneering research centre in the physical and life sciences, ISIS has an impact in fields such as energy, biotechnology, materials development and information technology. ISIS is helping aerospace companies assure the quality of engineering components, and medical researchers develop a glass that could replace bone transplants

  • RAL Space – STFC's Space Science and Technology Department, is involved in more than 200 international space missions including Herschel, the largest space telescope ever launched, which is examining the early stages of star birth and galaxy formation

  • Diamond Light Source Ltd – the UK national synchrotron radiation facility, Diamond generates brilliant beams of light from infrared to X-rays with applications ranging from research into diseases such as Alzheimer’s and finding new ways to clean up contaminated land

  • The Satellite Applications Catapult – is one of a network of seven UK technology and innovation centres which aim to drive economic growth through commercialisation of research. The vision of the Satellite Applications Catapult is to support UK industry through the acceleration of the growth of satellite applications and to contribute to capturing of a 10% share of the £400Bn global space market predicted by 2030. The Catapult has incorporated the activities of the International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC) into its programme and will continue its involvement in the Harwell Space Cluster.

  • Scientific Computing Department (SCD) – the department includes world leading experts in a number of scientific fields including computational chemistry, computational engineering, materials science, band theory, computational biology, advanced research computing, atomic and molecular physics, numerical analysis, software engineering, data services, petascale storage, scientific information and scientific computing technology.
  • It has a global reputation for excellence and is one of the foremost laboratories of its kind.

  • RAL was named after Lord Ernest Rutherford and Sir Edward Victor Appleton.

  • Its main facilities enable research into new materials and structures, for example from battery electrolytes to turbine blades, X-ray laser research, space-based astronomy, the co-ordination of particle physics and many other topics as detailed elsewhere on the website.

  • The laboratory also has responsibility for the Chilbolton Observatory near Andover in Hampshire, which specialises in radio propagation research related to mobile communications.

  • The aerial view of the Harwell Campus shows RAL in the foreground. ISIS Target Station 2 is the blue and white building pictured in the centre of the image, and the Diamond Light Source is on the far right.

Novel ways are being developed to store hydrogen for energy by studying the microstructure of materials, for example, and cell biology research is furthering our understanding of diseases like cancer.

Attracting young people into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is vital for the future of the UK economy. RAL’s diverse training schemes provide important skills – from engineering apprenticeships and summer student placements to graduate training schemes.

An exciting public engagement programme also offers activities and lectures for public and school audiences.

RAL also hosts a range of services and smaller facilities. These include the Energy Research Unit, which focuses on new and renewable energy sources, and the British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC). Funded by the National Environment Research Council, the BADC supplies data to the Met Office and the International Panel on Climate Change.

RAL co-ordinates the UK's particle physics programme and participates in high energy physics experiments around the world, including the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Switzerland.

The LHC will improve our understanding of the origins of the Universe by recreating conditions moments after the Big Bang. RAL’s e-scientists are helping to process and store data generated by the LHC using RAL’s cutting-edge computing facilities and technology.

The European Space Agency’s new UK centre on the Harwell Campus will increase collaborative opportunities for RAL’s space research and technology. A new multidisciplinary research complex will promote innovation by supporting scientists using ISIS, Diamond Light Source and the CLF.


RAL 1957-2007

Through its links with the Appleton Laboratory, the laboratory can trace a history back to 1921. A laboratory has existed on the Chilton site since 1957 when the then Rutherford High Energy Laboratory, an establishment of the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science, was set up.

Following mergers with the Atlas and Appleton Laboratories in 1975 and 1979 respectively, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory was formed with a diverse remit to support a wide range of university research activities. Together with Daresbury Laboratory, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory was brought under the umbrella of the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils in 1995.

Science and Technology Facilities Council
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