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Government backs pioneering 3D x-ray technology to capture images of diseased bones in 40 seconds

10 February 2020

A new advanced imaging centre at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory will receive £81million of UK government support, housing super-bright lasers to produce state-of-the-art 3D X-rays in just 40 seconds.

This will help speed up the development of new medical treatments, bring down the cost of manufacturing and identify design improvements.

This innovative technology will be available to UK businesses at the new Extreme Photonics Applications Centre (EPAC). This technology has the potential to expand our understanding of a range of challenges across pharmaceuticals, aerospace, batteries for electric vehicles or even artificial organs – boosting the UK’s manufacturing sector.

These new technologies will be able to speed up the development of new treatments. For example, high resolution 3D imaging of a diseased bone with existing technology can take hours or days: the new systems will produce detailed 3D X-rays in just 40 seconds.

Opening in 2024 at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Harwell, Oxfordshire, the new centre will provide opportunities for industrial and scientific industries to exploit its world-leading capabilities.

EPAC will rely on laser technology developed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) world-leading Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which ranges from advanced compact tuneable lasers which can pinpoint individual particles to high power lasers that recreate the conditions inside stars. Its wide-ranging applications include accelerating subatomic particles to high energies, probing chemical reactions on the shortest timescales and studying biochemical and biophysical process critical to life itself.

This investment in UK science comes as the UN today marks International Women and Girls in Science Day which aims to encourage women and girls to pursue a career and subjects relating to science and technology.

The new national research centre will build on the work undertaken by 2018 Physics Nobel Prize Winner, and third woman in history to receive this accolade, Donna Strickland – alongside Arthur Ashkin and Gerard Mourou. Her work to develop high-intensity, ultrashort pulses of light beams transformed whole sectors including medicine technology and is now a common technique in laser surgery, among other disciplines.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore said:

“Today’s launch of the £81m advanced imaging centre will enhance the UK’s leading role in laser technology and will help to revolutionise medical imaging.

“I’m especially delighted to be launching the centre with Physics Nobel Prize winner Donna Strickland – only the third woman in history to achieve this award – on International Day of Women and Girls in Science.”

Physics Nobel Prize Winner Donna Strickland said:

“Science education helps develop skills in problem solving and critical thinking necessary to address some of the world’s biggest challenges. When we encourage girls and women to engage with science, they bring more diversity to science and fresh perspectives that can only help in finding innovative solutions.”

Professor John Collier, Director of the UK’s Central Laser Facility, said:

“Laser driven radiation sources have the potential to be genuinely disruptive, impacting on existing markets and enabling new applications in new areas that previously would not have been possible.  EPAC, through the work of the team of scientists and engineers at CLF and our colleagues in academia, will enable the UK to realise this potential by bringing together the wider science, community in a diverse programme of fundamental and applied research.”

Notes to editors

Funding is provided through the Government’s Strategic Priorities Fund (£71.5 million), with additional investment of £10 million from the Ministry of Defence, and forms part of the commitment to significantly boost research and development funding across every part of the UK.

About the Strategic Priorities Fund:

The £830million Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) supports high quality multidisciplinary research and development priorities and is delivered through UK Research and Innovation.

Last updated: 12 February 2020

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