Cryogenics is a classic enabling technology for cutting edge research. Most people don’t encounter it directly, but here at STFC, cryogenics is often a key component at the heart of our science programmes. As such, our Centre for Instrumentation has identified it as a key focus area defined by future facility requirements, and an area that will be underpinned by strategic investment.
Cryogenics involves very low temperatures, towards ‘absolute zero’ - but it lies behind myriad of applications from food to healthcare, energy, science and space. Cryogenic cooling of devices and material is usually achieved using Liquid nitrogen, or liquid helium, however gases such as methane are used at our ISIS facility. Liquid nitrogen is a cheap, readily available way of lowering temperatures to -196˚C (or 77K on the Kelvin Scale which starts at Absolute Zero). Liquid helium is more expensive and more scarce, but is much colder at only 4K. Increasingly however, electromechanical ‘Cryocoolers’ are used to achieve equally low temperatures at the push of a button.
As well as mission-critical cooling systems for space and science projects (e.g. Large Hadron Collider, Planck Space Observatory), our capabilities directly benefit many sectors:
Ben Green working on the last front end receiver for the Atacama Large Millimetre Array, (ALMA), for which STFC is supplying the cryostats.
A KMOS Spectrograph being inspected by engineers in the lab at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre.
We get sharper images from outer space if the detectors are cold too, so astronomy experiments, such as the ALMA project, rely on cryogenically cooled detectors. The same applies to satellites like Planck, sent into space to pick up faint signals from shortly after the Big Bang. RAL Space were involved in the ALMA project, as well as that of the Planck Mission and the James Webb Space Telescope.
At the UK Astronomy Technology Centre we are providing novel design solutions through work in major projects including; a multi object spectrograph (KMOS) for the ESO (European Southern Observatory) very large telescope (VLT) and the MOONS (Multi-Object Optical and Near-infrared Spectrograph) international project to develop and build MOONS for ESO’s VLT in northern Chile.
We are heavily engaged in the Muon Ionisation Cooling Experiment (MICE) project where we are working with Oxford University to design and procure some of the superconducting magnets as well as the cryogenics for the hydrogen delivery system. We are also commissioning the pion decay solenoid for the same experiment.
We also have expertise in superconducting Helical Undulators and are working with ASTeC and the Diamond Light Source on planar undulators for synchrotron sources.
STFC is a great place to start or develop your career in science, engineering or technology. We offer opportunities for the experienced and newly qualified, internships, studentships and vacation placements and even work experience opportunities. We have an award-winning, accredited graduate scheme and a highly regarded advanced engineering apprentice scheme. Read more about how to work with us.
Find out what it’s like to be a cryogenics engineer at STFC
Find out how to gain work experience at STFC
Beginning in 2010, STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory has hosted a ‘Cryogenic Cluster Day’ each September. Since then, the Cryogenic Cluster Day has established itself as the best gathering of the Cryogenic Community in the British Cryogenics Calendar. Cryogenic Cluster Day comprises a mix of seminar presentations, trade shows, lab visits and a poster session, as well as offering a superb networking opportunity.
View the main ‘Cryogenics Cluster Day’ page to access a valuable archive of presentations and poster material from these events, or to find out the date of next year’s event.
STFC commissioned WECD to carry out a study on the impact of cryogenics. The report asserts that cryogenic-related economic activities could contribute between £1.6 billion and £3.3 billion to the UK economy in the next 10 years, with STFC, its university partners and industry all being key players in delivering this growth. Read the cryogenics impact study.
Last updated: 12 August 2019