Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Accelerator science

The Science and Technology Facilities Council hosts record-breaking accelerators that are pushing the boundaries in many areas of science and technology and is investing in ways to make them more powerful and sophisticated.

Partners involved:
Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

The scope and what we're doing

Facilities at the furthest limits

It takes cutting-edge, record-breaking accelerators to push the boundaries of science further than ever before, while creating spin-off benefits that are often impossible to predict.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the most powerful particle accelerator ever built, is based at the European particle physics laboratory CERN, near Geneva in Switzerland. One of the world’s largest laboratories and dedicated to the pursuit of fundamental science, CERN is also the UK’s particle physics laboratory. STFC manages this country’s annual subscription to the organisation. In 2012, the LHC hit the headlines worldwide with the discovery of a particle consistent with the elusive Higgs boson – potentially a watershed moment in the history of physics.

Facilities that change the world

STFC is home to a cutting-edge suite of phenomenally efficient, incredibly reliable accelerators that meet the needs of a huge range of academic and industrial experimental programmes.

Diamond Light Source

Diamond Light Source is funded by STFC in partnership with the Wellcome Trust. It accelerates electrons to near light speed to produce X-ray, infrared and ultraviolet beams used to explore the building blocks of life, the origins of the Universe and much more besides.

ISIS Neutron and Muon Source

ISIS Neutron and Muon Source is the world’s most successful neutron source of its type. Probing matter’s deepest secrets, its array of leading-edge instruments has been harnessed in support of projects spanning science and technology.

European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF)

STFC manages the UK’s shareholding in and subscription to ESRF, located in Grenoble, France. This X-ray light source is the most powerful of its type in Europe and is used by academic and commercial researchers in fields ranging from petrochemicals to microelectronics.

Accelerator Science and Technology Centre

The Accelerator Science and Technology Centre (ASTec) is a centre of excellence for accelerator research in the UK. ASTeC studies all aspects of the science and technology of charged particle accelerators, ranging from large-scale international and national research facilities through to specialised industrial and medical applications. Its staff pursue world-class research and development programmes on behalf of STFC. ASTeC is also a partner in the Cockcroft Institute with the universities of Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester. Additional collaborators include the John Adams Institute for Accelerator Science, other higher education institutions and international laboratories.

Facilities for the future

STFC is constantly exploring how accelerators could be made more powerful, more sophisticated or simply more enlightening. Whether aiming to enhance existing machines with brand new techniques and effects or to develop completely new accelerators, this research is the key to unleashing new possibilities in experimentation and discovery.

From the most fundamental research to the development of new products and technologies, accelerators are speeding the pace of scientific progress and represent an invaluable asset for the UK and its people.

Versatile Electron Linear Accelerator (VELA)

VELA (formerly the Electron Beam Test Facility) produces short-pulse beams of electrons that are highly stable and customisable. It is aiding the development of cutting-edge accelerator systems.

Accelerators and Lasers In Combined Experiments (ALICE)

ALICE is designed to investigate next-generation particle accelerator beam technology and also to produce light from both accelerated electrons and advanced lasers that can be used simultaneously in cutting-edge demonstration experiments. ALICE’s technology is capable of making real-time movies of chemical reactions at the atomic level. This capability will have a major impact in research carried out in the fields of drug development, materials science for energy applications and environmentally friendly technologies.

Electron Machine of Many Applications (EMMA)

EMMA is a proof-of-concept accelerator that represents the very first of its specific kind anywhere in the world, and could catalyse the development of a new generation of accelerators that contribute to new cancer therapies, for instance.

Muon Ionisation Cooling Experiment (MICE)

MICE is a project to build a prototype muon ionisation cooling channel. Muon ionisation cooling is a technique designed to reduce the intrinsic size (emittance) of a beam of muon particles and is essential for future projects like the muon collider.

Compact Linear Accelerator for Research and Applications (CLARA)

CLARA is a proposed novel free electron laser test facility focused on the generation of ultra-short photon pulses with extreme levels of stability and synchronisation. The ultimate aim of CLARA is to experimentally demonstrate that sub-coherence length pulse generation with free electron lasers is viable, and to compare the various schemes being championed. The results will translate directly to existing and future X-ray free electron lasers, enabling them to generate attosecond pulses, thereby extending the science capabilities of these intense light sources.

Laser-plasma accelerators

Super-intense pulses produced by Vulcan and Gemini lasers have shown the innovative ability to accelerate particles over very short distances and produce high-quality beams of protons, ions and electrons, opening up new possibilities in accelerator application.

Accelerator Physics Group

The Accelerator Physics Group, led by Deepa Angal-Kalinin, has established skills in design, simulation, commissioning and operation of a wide range of electron accelerator projects for applied as well as basic research. The members of the group have expertise in theoretical and experimental investigations of beam dynamics of photoinjectors, light sources and lepton colliders. The group has specialisation in other unique areas such as photocathode physics, low emittance tuning and collimation designs, all skills required for future challenging high-brightness applications.

At Daresbury Laboratory, the group is responsible for design, commissioning and operation of ALICE, which also feeds beam into EMMA.

The group designed VELA and is designing CLARA. Photoinjector and photocathode research to deliver and manipulate ultra-high-brightness beams is one of the major research areas that the group is dealing with.

The accelerator physics group has made significant contributions to light source design in the UK, from Diamond through to the fourth generation light source and new light source projects. With expertise from these challenging projects, the group has made unique contributions to the MAX IV injector design and tolerance studies and collimation performance studies for SwissFEL.

The members of the group are contributing to the beam dynamics of High Luminosity Large Hadron Collider design studies.

Why we're doing it

Generating beams of charged particles that travel at phenomenal speeds isn’t just a technical challenge in itself. It provides an indispensable research tool that, by revealing matter’s innermost workings, helps find answers to key questions about the Universe and delivers brand new scientific insights benefiting fields as diverse as medicine, security and aviation.

STFC is constantly exploring how accelerators could be made more powerful, more sophisticated or simply more enlightening. Whether aiming to enhance existing machines with brand new techniques and effects or to develop completely new accelerators, this research is the key to unleashing new possibilities in experimentation and discovery.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Who to contact

David Brown, Senior Programme Manager, Accelerators


Last updated: 17 October 2022

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