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21 today! Edinburgh's UK Astronomy Technology Centre celebrates 21 years of world class engineering excellence

23 October 2019

21 years ago today, Lord Sainsbury, then serving as the Minister for Science and Innovation, opened the doors of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) in Edinburgh. With a mission to be the UK’s National Centre for the design and production of state-of-the-art astronomical instrumentation; today UK ATC is at the forefront of world-class science and innovation and helping us learn more about the Universe around us as well as supporting technological breakthroughs that have benefits here on Earth.

Based at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh (ROE) on Blackford Hill and set against a heritage of astronomical observing in the City; UK ATC is a ground-breaking high-tech engineering facility delivering world-class instruments for the world’s biggest and most ambitious telescopes on land and in space. From NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to the European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) – UK ATC delivers engineering excellence in collaboration with national and international space agencies, universities and commercial partners.  

Today we celebrate 21 years in the design and production of state-of-the-art astronomical instrumentation; by capturing the key milestones in our journey from 1998 to 2019… and into the future.

“To explore fundamental questions, such as the origins of the Universe; and how life began requires us to continually set new scientific goals for astronomy research. Crucially, it’s the technical capability of the astronomical instruments to collect, measure and analyse the data from space that makes that science possible.” says Professor Mark Thomson Executive Chair, STFC.

“Technical innovation for space research has for decades driven innovation in other fields too – from giving us Wi-Fi to, for example, advances in microscopy and retinopathy”, continues Mark. “To provide greater opportunity for that ‘knowledge transfer’ to benefit UK business and the economy, the Higgs Centre for Innovation opened in 2018 at UK ATC. This is a dedicated incubation hub for high-tech start-ups – which we support through providing access to state-of-the-art facilities; business support; as well as an ecosystem of specialist knowledge in engineering and astronomy. We also aim to inspire the next generation and the wider world about our work and how astronomical technology informs our world at UK ATC through world-class public outreach run from our ROE Visitor Centre”, concludes Mark.

Professor Gillian Wright, Director UK ATC says “Turning 21 today, is an opportune moment to reflect on our journey over the last two decades; and to celebrate the achievements that have driven and ensured our future. From UK ATC’s inception in 1998 we delivered world-class technical innovation in the design of instruments for astronomy research that were ground-breaking for their time. That ambition has not changed. The projects that we work on today for space missions and observatories well into the 2020s and 2030s continue to be ground-breaking in ambition and technical capability”.

“Our success is due in no small part to our people and a vibrant collaborative workplace. Astronomy is a field that requires many disciplines working together both nationally and internationally, often within large multi-national consortia. The ability of our people to bring together diverse skills, gender and nationality in pursuit of a common goal not only helps our organisation in delivering solutions to complex technological challenges – but is something that we are very proud of.”

Notes to Editors

  1. Contact:
    Eve Laird
    , Communications Manager, UK ATC
    eve.laird@stfc.ukri.org ; 0779 626 0787
    Becky Parker-Ellis, STFC Media Officer
    becky.parker-ellis@stfc.ukri.org ; 07808 879294
  2. Media materials:
    Videos + Images can be downloaded at https://www.roe.ac.uk/download/ukatc21.zip
    • 21 years of engineering excellence infographic
      1894 Observing towers
      Crawford Building
      Higgs Centre for Innovation
      Selection of 2 minute video interviews with UK ATC scientists and engineers

Last updated: 12 November 2019

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