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Work Experience placements at RAL

Work experience students at RAL

Work experience students at RAL
(Credit: STFC)

Work Experience 2020-21 at RAL

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, work experience placements at RAL were postponed in 2019-20. Currently most staff at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory are still working from home, including the Public Engagement Team. We are unsure of how the RAL work experience programme will look in 2021, however applications will not open in September 2020. Once we have a better idea of the feasibility of work experience placements, we will update this webpage. This will hopefully be in December 2020.

The information below refers to a ‘usual’ year at RAL, and will differ slightly for 2020-2021.

The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) offers two types of placements, traditional placements and an Engineering Experience Week.

Before you apply, please ensure that you have thought about how you will travel to the laboratory if you are successful in getting a placement. Details on how to find us can be found here.

We have a small number of travel bursaries available for students. This will be assessed on a number of factors including the postcode of their home/school and will require a recommendation from their teacher. These will only be accessible to students that have received confirmation of a placement.

We are currently in the process of piloting T-Level placements for digital students at RAL. Currently we are not in a position to accept applications for this type of work placement. Once the pilot phase has been completed, we will be able to provide more information on this in the future. 

Traditional placements

RAL offers one or two week traditional work experience placements between April and August to over 100 Year 10, 11, 12 and 13 students each year, from many local schools and around the country. This is where a student works individually with a supervisor in one of our departments. Longer placements are available for Year 12 and Year 13 students over the summer. As far as possible students are placed depending on their interests indicated on the application form.

Local Year 12 students may also be eligible for a Nuffield Research Placement, although this is always subject to supervisor availability. We are happy to try to find supervisors for Nuffield Placement students but you must apply for a Nuffield Placement in addition to filling out our work experience application form.

Engineering Experience Week

In addition to placements in different departments around the RAL site, we will also be offering an Engineering Experience Week in 2020 for Year 10 and Year 12 students. This will take place from 6 – 10 July 2020. Students will be given the opportunity to work in small teams (4 or 5 students) to get involved in a hands-on engineering project mentored by engineers from RAL. The projects will be small challenges that the teams can address in a week. Projects will cover engineering disciplines done at the laboratory, including Mechanical, Electrical, Electronic and Software engineering. Details on these disciplines can be found below

Project briefs from previous years can be found here. Please note – these projects are just examples and will not be the offered projects for 2020.

How to apply for work experience at RAL

Applications for the 2019/20 work experience programme at RAL are now closed and we are unable to accept any late applications. We are currently in the process of finding supervisors for students. All applicants will hear from us by 20 March 2020.

For traditional placements, we have a number of departments offering placements at RAL. More information can be found below. If you have any queries about work experience, please do not hesitate to email us.

For information, a sample overview of the application forms for 2019/20 can be found here. Please note that this sample form is not an exact replica of the online form. It does, however, contain all of the longer questions that are required. We also have a number of examples of completed forms to help you with your application:

Important dates for RAL

Date Deadline
1 September Applications open
31 December Applications close
20 March All applicants will hear if they have been successful in getting a placement
6 weeks before placements begin All forms to be received by RAL, including Student/Parent Agreement, School Agreement form and online contact form
April - August 2020 Placements begin
6 - 10 July 2020 Engineering Experience Week takes place

We can offer traditional placements in the following areas:

  • Computing - software engineering and development, programming and IT. We offer computing placements in many departments, including Scientific Computing, ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, Research Complex at Harwell, Central Laser Facility.
  • Engineering – mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering. These placements often involve working with CAD (Computer Aided Design). Please note we do not offer any placements in aerospace engineering. Engineering placements are offered in many departments, including Central Laser Facility, ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, Particle Physics, RAL Space and Technology.
  • Mechanical Engineering –Mechanical engineers use Computer Aided Design / Computer Aided Machinery (CAD/CAM) tools, machining (lathe, milling, etc.), hand tools (filing, saws, etc.) to design and create mechanical systems using a vast range of materials. An example of this is a vacuum chamber, or designing parts of spacecraft.
  • Electronic Engineering – Electronic engineering uses CAD tools to design Printed Circuit Boards (PCB’s). Once this is made, we then use programming languages to tell the components on the PCB how to behave, and test it using our specifically made test systems. Tools that we use are mainly soldering irons. Electronic engineers typically work at the ‘smallest’ scale, as they work on circuit boards. Electronic engineers design and test motherboards for computers or phones.
  • Electrical Engineering – Electrical engineering is the bridge between electronic and mechanical engineering. Electrical engineering creates complex power and control systems by creating the housing for electronics and wiring it up. They use control systems such as PLC’s (Programmable Logic Controller) to control different types of systems. The power that is supplied to our homes is all thanks to electrical engineering.
  • Science – theoretical
  • Science – practical
  • Other - In addition to STEM placements, we also offer a number of placements in other areas, for example in the Library and the Communications and Business departments.

We can offer traditional placements in the following departments. For more information about each department, please click on the links below.

Business and Innovation

The Business and Innovation Directorate (BID) provides students the opportunity to gain experience in the following areas:

  • Business Development
  • Innovation
  • Business Support

Students can experience how business is done within the Space Sector, and will be given the chance to engage with new customers and clients and be involved in many networking opportunities. Students may also learn about how a Business Incubation Centre runs.


Central Laser Facility

CLF student

Student working in Central Laser Facility
(Credit: STFC)

The Central Laser Facility is used by scientists from all over Europe to carry out a broad range of experiments in physics, chemistry and biology. It is home to Vulcan, the world's highest-intensity focused laser, Astra Gemini, the world’s first twin beam laser and Artemis, an ultrafast XUV laser. It is also the home of the OCTOPUS and ULTRA clusters, within the Lasers for Science Facility.

“[The best part was] seeing a plasma experiment being set up and getting to know what is involved in a research career.”


ISIS Neutron and Muon Source

ISIS student

Student working in ISIS
(Credit: STFC)

ISIS is a particle accelerator and neutron and muon producer and allows us to look inside materials at the atomic scale, like a powerful microscope. ISIS is involved in a broad range of research, from pharmaceuticals and health care through to chemistry, materials engineering and nanotechnology.

“[I enjoyed] learning about engineering, ISIS and the complicated CAD.”

In ISIS, priority may be given to older students as there are some areas under 16s are not allowed to enter.



The RAL Library offers an exciting placement opportunity for students that have an interest in libraries, and publications in general. In addition to working on projects within the library and shadowing the Assistant Librarians, this placement would include learning about different types of publication and how these are important for communicating the work of the laboratory. This is a good grounding for any student wanting to go to university.

“My placement was enjoyable and educational - I had lots of interesting things to do.”


Particle Physics

PP students

Students working for the PP department
(Credit: STFC)

Particle physics investigates the structure of matter at the deepest possible level. Doing this requires the very highest energies, and particle physics experiments often use huge particle accelerators and complex computer programming. Our particle physics department collaborates with large international projects, such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

“Learning to program and being involved in real time searches/hearing research happening now”


RAL Space

RAL Space student

Student working in RAL Space
(Credit: STFC)

RAL Space provides world-leading technology development, space test facilities and instrument and mission design. They have been involved in well over 200 space missions – such as Rosetta, which studied Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and the James Webb Space Telescope, as well as Earth Observation missions, such as SLSTR, which is mapping the surface temperature of the Earth to an unprecedented degree of accuracy.

“[The best part was} being able to work on parts of an instrument that will be flown into space within the following years.”

“I liked looking at the target station and finding out how it works.”


Research Complex at Harwell

Harwell student

Student working at the RCaH
(Credit: STFC)

The Research Complex at Harwell (RCaH) is a new multi-disciplinary laboratory. It provides a unique environment for cutting-edge research in physical and life sciences to take place. Research examples include analysing protein structures to help design new drugs, advanced computer graphics and also using lasers that reveal chemical reactions that take place in less than a million millionths of a second.

“[I liked] meeting the employees and learning about their role in the Catalysis Hub [and] using the machines to analyse the nanoparticles I made.”


Scientific Computing

Scientific Computing student

Student working for the SCD
(Credit: STFC)

Computing is becoming more and more important – not only in scientific research, but in the economy as a whole. The Scientific Computing department (SCD) at RAL provides first class computing support and services to staff and scientists on the site. Data from scientific experiments such as the Large Hadron Collider and the ISIS and Diamond particle accelerators are stored and analysed at RAL. SCD is also involved with computational physics, biology, chemistry and engineering.

“[I found I improved] my knowledge in terms of new coding languages and how large organisations work.”



Engineering student

Engineering work experience student at RAL
(Credit: STFC)

The engineering department designs and builds world-leading equipment for STFC. Staff have a wide range of skills: applied physicists, mechanical, electrical and electronic engineers. The engineering department is key to the design and manufacture of a wide range of detectors, space satellites and micro manufactured components.

“The best part was drawing parts for a Stirling Engine in Solid Edge.”

“I enjoyed working in the clean room on testing detector chips.”



We also have opportunities in our communications, public engagement, media, photographic, support services and finance departments. More information about these departments can be found below.

Last updated: 28 August 2020


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