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£265M science investment for largest telescope and biggest microscope

11th March 2014

UK scientists and engineers will be helping to build the world’s largest telescope and the world’s biggest microscope. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) will manage the UK role in these exciting projects which will be at the forefront of science in the coming decade.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be the world’s largest telescope facility, using a network of radio antennae around the globe to advance radio astronomy in understanding how the Universe evolved. The European Spallation Source (ESS) will be the world’s biggest microscope, enabling UK scientists to work at the cutting edge of a broad range of science disciplines underpinned by material science, including designing computing chips, batteries and pharmaceuticals, and complementing the existing ISIS source at Harwell.

STFC Chief Executive Professor John Womersley said:

“Today’s investment opens the door to UK participation in one of Europe’s highest priority science facilities. The combination of ESS and ISIS will ensure that the UK’s world leading neutron community continues to have access to be best neutron facilities in the world. And the UK’s experience in the components and instrument technologies needed for this new facility will help to ensure that ESS is a success."

“For the SKA, today’s announcement allows the UK astronomy research community to address some of the fundamental questions on the origin and evolution of the Universe, whilst at the same time the technical innovations needed for the project will transform the capabilities of high-performance computing.”

Speaking ahead of an event at Jodrell Bank Observatory Science Minister David Willetts announced the funding for the two projects. Visionary science projects such as the Square Kilometre Array and the European Spallation Source can help to attract and develop the skilled and technically educated workforce the UK needs whilst giving UK scientists access to cutting edge national and international research facilities.

The Minister announced the funding for these projects which, subject to successful international negotiation, will allow STFC to invest hundreds of millions pounds in:

  • European Spallation Source ~£165m
  • Square Kilometre Array ~£100m (the UK is leading the effort to design the computing and software with a  capacity 1,000 times greater than currently available)

Neutron science is the science of everyday life, providing a microscopic view of the materials we rely on for modern life. It is important for the development of new and better computer chips, cosmetics, detergents, textiles, paints, fuels, drugs, batteries and plastics. Industrial drivers such as fuel cells, superconductors, innovative structural engineering, climate, transportation and food technologies, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and clean energy, are all dependent on advances in the capacity and capability of the science of neutron imaging. The many thousands of products created and improved through material science using neutrons are essential to our basic quality of life, and our economic growth.

UK researchers and industry currently have access to the STFC’s own ISIS neutron source, which is currently commissioning new capabilities and the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble. A number of different neutron source facilities are needed as different neutron sources produce neutrons with a range of energies, enabling them to be used for very different types of material research. Neutron science supports research across a broad range of disciplines and offers unique insights into the properties of materials on the atomic scale.

The Square Kilometre Array will be the biggest radio astronomy project the world has ever built, in fact one of the biggest science projects ever built – with receivers across Africa and Australia.  The dishes and antennae that will make up the telescope will produce 20 times the current global traffic of the internet. To playback a single day’s worth of SKA data on an iPod would take 2 million years.  To handle and analyse such a deluge of data is a huge challenge.  

Following the announcement, Professor Phil Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation, said: “This is a really exciting announcement for the SKA and a solid proof that the project is now really underway. With such a major investment secured there is no stopping it”.

The UK expertise is such that we have played key roles in developing the SKA project through to the detailed design phase currently underway, won work packages in these vital data handling areas and most significantly, host the project office at Jodrell Bank for this global, billion Euro project. The science done by SKA will help us understand some of the strangest questions in astronomy and fundamental physics and a whole generation of astronomers will be able to use this inspiring facility to transform the way we understand the world.

The European Spallation Source, which will start construction in Lund in Sweden this summer, will provide UK researchers with access to a powerful and unique new neutron probes of matter that will complement ISIS – indeed, as part of this agreement the Swedish government has agreed to contribute to the on-going operational costs of ISIS to provide access for ESS researchers.  The benefits for the UK will include maintaining and extending neutron capability in Europe to the benefit of UK neutron users.

The event also saw the launch of STFC’s Impact report 2013, showing the positive impact of STFC’s research and innovation on UK economy.

For the BIS announcement please see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/300-million-investment-to-support-growth-and-jobs-in-uk-science


Notes for Editors

Wendy Ellison
STFC Press Officer
Tel: +44(0)1925 603232
Mobile: +44(0)7919 548012
Email: wendy.ellison@stfc.ac.uk

Corinne Mosese
STFC Press Officer
Tel: +44(0)1793 442870
Mobile: +44(0)7557 317200
Email: Corinne.mosese@stfc.ac.uk

About SKA
Further details on the SKA can be viewed on the SKA website at www.skatelescope.org
SKA images: https://www.skatelescope.org/multimedia/image/
Amazing facts on the SKA:

About ESS

ESS is an intergovernmental research infrastructure project, and it will be built in Lund in southern Scandinavia. At least sixteen European countries will take part in the construction, financing and operation of the ESS. Sweden and Denmark will co-host the ESS and cover 50 percent of the 1.4 B€ investment costs and 20 percent of the operating costs together with the Nordic and Baltic states. The European Spallation Source ESS AB is a public limited company, today owned by the Swedish and the Danish states. ESS AB is planning the future international ESS organisation. Building is expected to start around 2014, the first neutrons to be produced in 2019 and the facility to be fully operational around 2025.
CGI representation of ESS


ISIS is a world-leading centre for research in the physical and life sciences at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford in the United Kingdom. Our suite of neutron and muon instruments gives unique insights into the properties of materials on the atomic scale. We support a national and international community of more than 3000 scientists for research into subjects ranging from clean energy and the environment, pharmaceuticals and health care, through to nanotechnology and materials engineering, catalysis and polymers, and on to fundamental studies of materials.

We use the technique of neutron scattering. Neutrons tell us where atoms are and how they are moving. By studying how materials work at the atomic level, we can better understand their every-day properties – and so make new materials tailor-made for particular uses. ISIS also produces muons for use in a similar way, providing additional information on how materials work at the atomic scale.

STFC (www.stfc.ac.uk)

The Science and Technology Facilities Council is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security.

The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.

STFC operates or hosts world class experimental facilities including in the UK the ISIS pulsed neutron source, the Central Laser Facility, and LOFAR, and is also the majority shareholder in Diamond Light Source Ltd.

It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities by funding membership of international bodies including European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institut Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). STFC is one of seven publicly-funded research councils.

It is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).


Last updated: 14 September 2017


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