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The life history of an internationally renowned laboratory nestled in the heart of Cheshire

Daresbury Laboratory has been in existence for over 50 years, and during which time the staff, engineers and scientists associated with the laboratory have undertaken a huge variety of activities, which have shaped the scientific and societal impact it has delivered.

The laboratory’s story began in 1960 when, with the backing of strong research interests from Northern based universities, a high level science advisory committee recommended to the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science, design a study for an electron synchrotron. The project was approved in July 1962, and an exceptionally stable foundation site was chosen soon afterwards to house this experiment. This site is known to us as Daresbury Laboratory.

Join us as we explore a snap-shot of the ever-changing nature of Daresbury Laboratory through the decades.

  1. 1962

    The letter from Lord Hailsham, the then Minister for Science and Technology, to Lord Bridges, Chair of the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science – NIRNS, in July 1962, authorising the commencement of the construction of the Electron Laboratory at Daresbury Laboratory.

  2. 1964

    NINA foundations rising from the ground; these were constructed on the underlying sandstone bedrock – one of the major reasons that the Daresbury site was chosen.

    Drilling under the Bridgewater Canal to lay a cooling water discharge pipe well away from the inlet, led to the canal bed collapsing and parts of Moore village being flooded!

  3. 1965

    Aerial shot of Daresbury Laboratory with the initial buildings in place. In the centre of the picture you can see the first office and laboratory building with the accelerator hall and associates workshops.

  4. 1966

    Laboratory staff positioning magnet coils during the assembly of NINA. These electro magnets (NINA had 40) steered the electron beam and forced it through a circular path within a vacuum enclosure. Built in 1964 NINA was a 5GeV electron accelerator for particle physics studies.

    Every 1/50th of a second the electron beam was extracted and sent to one of the four beamlines in the Outer Hall. The beam sent to the experiments was either the 5GeV electrons or gamma rays (photons), which were produced by colliding electrons with tungsten targets.

  5. 1968

    By 1968 the new A Block laboratory and office block was complete, including the site entrance and security lodge.

  6. 1971

    In 1971 artist Arthur Dooley was commissioned to design a piece of artwork depicting the creation of the atomic bomb, aptly named ‘Splitting the Atom.’ He was given ten tons of magnetic steel and two 37 inch pole tips (previously designed by Sir John Cockcroft) taken from the first small cyclotron to operate the USA.

  7. 1975

    This image shows the Horizontal Wadsworth Monochromator built to exploit electromagnetic radiation emitted by NINA as part of the Synchrotron Radiation Facility (SRF) which was established in the early 1970s. Along with other particle physics accelerators scientists has been using the synchrotron radiation (photons), emitted by the electrons traversing around the ring at close to the speed of light, because of its unique properties. By 1975 over 50 scientists with affiliations to more than 16 institutions were at work on NINA exploiting this by product of the particle accelerator.

    Construction of the Nuclear Structure Facility (NSF) began in the mid-1970s. Built by UK scientists and engineers to a unique design based on a research and development programme at Daresbury, the NSF was housed in a steel pressure vessel, 45 metres high and 8 metres in diameter, and was contained in a 70 metre high concrete tower. The concrete tower was ‘slip formed’ to a wall thickness of 1m – 700mm in ordinary grey concrete with an outer 300mm width of white concrete. The ‘twin’ service tower is 71m high.

  8. 1976

    This picture shows the completed NSF tower containing the 45m high accelerator vessel. The large injector at the top housed the ion sources and at the ground level three large experimental areas accommodated the ion beams radiating from the analysing magnet at the base of the machine.

  9. 1977

    In 1977 NINA closed to make way for the construction of the Synchrotron Radiation Source (SRS).

  10. 1980

    The first beam in the SRS was recorded on an oscilloscope in the main control room at 21:30 on 30 June 1980.

  11. 1983

    The Nuclear Structure Facility was inaugurated by the Rt.Hon. Keith Joseph in September 1983.

    Pictured: Inside the NSF vessel. The NSF was a tandem electrostatic accelerator producing beams of heavy ions for basic research by university and Daresbury scientists into the behaviour and properties of the atomic nucleus.


  12. 1985

    Helios was small but complete synchrotron radiation source, utilising superconducting technology to achieve a compact size. The machine was designed between 1985-87 jointly by Daresbury Laboratory staff and Oxford Instruments, who then manufactured them. The first was supplied to IBM in 1991 for computer chip lithography. The second was sold to a new synchrotron radiation laboratory in Singapore.

  13. 1987

    Image: Inspection of magnets and vacuum vessel for the high brightness lattice upgrade to the SRS in 1987.

    In the 1980’s the demand for an improvement to the brightness of the source emerged. By doubling the number of quadrupole magnets it was possible to keep the SRS competitive.

    To increase the energy beam at the NSF, a new superconducting linear accelerator was installed to widen the scope of experiments that could be undertaken.

  14. 1993

    The NSF was switched off for the last time at the end of March 1993.During the lifetime of the facility beams of 39 elements, from hydrogen to uranium, were generated. When the different isotopes are counted the number of species tallied to 84.

  15. 1995

    The high resolution Scienta ESCA300 X-ray spectrometer arrived from ICI Wilton as part of the setting up of a new Research Unit for Surfaces, Transforms and Interfaces (RUSTI) in the mid-1990s. The centre later became known as National Centre for Electron Spectroscopy and Surface analysis (NCESS).

  16. 1997

    Sir John Walker won a share of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for solving the structure of the F1 ATPase enzyme using the SRS. It was the first Nobel Prize to be won associated with Daresbury Laboratory.

  17. 1998

    SRS Stations 6.1 and 6.2 were closed to make way for a new facility known as PHOENIX which received more intense radiation generated by a newly installed multiple wiggler device in the SRS.

  18. 2002

    Lord Sainsbury of Turville inaugurated the first SuperSTEM high resolution microscope facility at Daresbury Laboratory.

    In 2002 ,what was then, the world’s largest model of DNA measured 10.78 metres high and includes 250 base paints. It was created by Keele University and Daresbury Laboratory and was unveiled at the Potteries Shopping Centre in Hanley, Stoke on Trent on 9 March 2002.

    HPCx began operation at Daresbury in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh; at its switch on it was the 9th most powerful computer in the world.

  19. 2006

    The Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus was inaugurated in 2002 by the then Science Minister Lord Sainsbury of Turville.

    On 19th September 2006 the Cockcroft Institute - a collaboration between Liverpool, Manchester, Lancaster universities and STFC was inaugurated by Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the then Science Minister

  20. 2008

    Professor Ian Munro, an early pioneer of synchrotron radiation exploitation at Daresbury Laboratory, switched off the SRS on 4 August 2008 after over 2 million hours of beam for science. A message celebrating the 27 years of operation was displayed on the monitors around the facility during the final hours of operation. - SRS research has advanced many areas from research in HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, malaria and Motor Neuron Disease, cleaner fuel and lower emissions from car exhausts to safer aircraft and even archaeological conservation.

  21. 2010

    In 2010 Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim were awarded a Nobel Prize for their discovery of wonder material graphene that was helped by SuperSTEM.

  22. 2012

    Daresbury Laboratory celebrated its 50th anniversary.

  23. 2013

    The Hartree Centre was created to accelerate the adoption of high performance computing, big data and cognitive computing by UK industry. It was open by the Chancellor of Exchequer on February 1st 2013.

  24. 2015

    A unique garden that illustrates the mysteries of Dark Matter by STFC was awarded a Gold rating at the Chelsea Flower Show. At the end of the Chelsea Flower Show, the garden was re-built at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory to reach further audiences.

    The Versatile Electron Linear Accelerator (VELA) was officially launched bringing a new imaging capability for the UK industry. This new imaging capability will potentially take materials and biological researches beyond the limits of what is currently possible, and eventually generate ‘molecular movies’.

    State-of-the-art medical training facility, Medical Training and Research Laboratory (MTRL) opened at Daresbury Laboratory. These types of scanners are used to show doctors exactly where to find tumours, how efficiently our hearts are working or what is happening in our brains – for instance, whether a patient’s symptoms are caused by Parkinson’s disease, or another condition with similar symptoms. The MTRL is dedicated to teaching research and the students have allocated blocks of time to use the SPECT/CT, so gain knowledge and skills in a much shorter timescale.

  25. 2016

    Daresbury Open Week
    (Credit: STFC)

    Experience the awe of Daresbury Laboratory on July 9 when it opens its doors to the public.

Last updated: 24 March 2017


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