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"Made in UK" super-bright lasers at heart of new £81 million research centre to boost science and industry


"Made in UK" super-bright lasers at heart of new £81 million research centre to boost science and industry
  • New advanced imaging centre in the heart of Oxfordshire will create highly accurate 3D images of the internal structure of objects ranging from aircraft wings to bones
  • The centre, based on world-leading laser technology developed in the UK, will produce 3D reconstructions of complex objects hundreds of times faster than conventional systems
  • When the centre opens in 2024 it will bring together industrial, scientific and defence communities to exploit its world leading capabilities

A new national research centre will help UK business develop high-value products faster and more reliably while avoiding potentially costly manufacturing errors.

Using UK-designed super-bright and super-fast lasers, the £81 million Extreme Photonic Applications Centre (EPAC) is expected to boost the high value manufacturing sector in the UK and has applications across a wide range of sectors including health and medicine.

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.

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 women in history to achieve this award – on International Day of Women and Girls in Science.”

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 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.

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.”

The facility, at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, will offer a fundamentally new and multi-disciplinary way of imaging materials from bone, to aircraft wings, to the composites and new materials needed to produce better batteries.

For example, EPAC will be able to construct high resolution X-ray images of highly stressed engineering components under load, pointing to improvements in design and avoiding costly failures.

High resolution 3-D imaging of a diseased bone with existing technology takes many hours or days, but this new system will produce incredibly detailed 3D x-rays in just 40 seconds.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said:

“From informing the design of next generation aerodynamic aircraft components to examining 3D images of human bones, the new Extreme Photonic Applications Centre has applications across many sectors of the economy.”

“This technology will create advances in the science and understanding of materials imaging. UKRI will work with a range of industry partners to realise its potential.”

Funding is provided through UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund, with additional investment from the Ministry of Defence. The facility at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus is expected to be operational by 2024.

EPAC will rely on laser technology developed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, part of the Harwell Research and Innovation Campus.

The breakthrough both massively reduces the scale of the equipment needed and greatly increases the ‘repetition rate’ of the laser system (from firing once every few minutes to 10 to 100 times a second).

The co-location of EPAC with other UKRI facilities at Harwell offers business a full suite of imaging techniques in one location, backed by expert scientific knowledge.

The Strategic Priorities Fund is being delivered by UKRI to drive an increase in high quality multi- and interdisciplinary research and innovation; ensure that UKRI’s investment links up effectively with government research priorities and opportunities; and ensure the system responds to strategic priorities and opportunities.

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