Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Nuclear physics

The Science and Technology Facilities Council nuclear physics programme supports research in four broad areas, nuclear structure, nuclear astrophysics, hadronic physics and theory.

Partners involved:
Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

The scope and what we're doing

Research in this field comprises the design and research and development of detector systems, experimental work which is carried out at specific overseas facilities, data analysis, and a complementary theoretical programme.

The nuclear physics programme can be divided into four broad areas of research:

  • nuclear structure
  • nuclear astrophysics
  • hadronic physics
  • theory.

These programmes aim to achieve STFC’s science challenges.

Advanced GAmma Tracking Array (AGATA): precision spectroscopy of exotic nuclei

AGATA spectrometer is a state-of-the-art instrument that moves between laboratories in order to take full advantage of the different beams and facilities available, and hence to maximise the breadth of science that is addressed. This project, funded by STFC, allows the UK to extensively contribute to the current and planned phases of AGATA as it moves site from Grand Accélérateur National d’Ions Lourds (GANIL) to Selective Production of Exotic Species (SPE) and then to Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR). The UK will deliver two triple-clusters of detector capsules (six capsules in total) and associated infrastructure, electronics, mechanical design, and pulse-shape analysis.

A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE)

CERN, founded in 1954 and situated on the France-Swiss border near Geneva, is a world-leading laboratory using the largest and most complex scientific instruments to study fundamental particles. ALICE, an STFC-funded project, is one of the four main experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Isotope mass Separator On Line – Beam Storage Ring Spectrometer (ISOL-SRS)

The ISOL-SRS project was a major component of a wider European initiative that will exploit the heavy ion test storage ring to be installed at the High Intensity and Energy ISOLDE (HIE-ISOLDE) radioactive-beam accelerator at CERN. The UK will construct two high resolution, high efficiency detector sub-systems for the storage ring that will allow high resolution measurements of nuclear reactions for the full range of masses of radioactive beams available at HIE-ISOLDE.

Jefferson Laboratory

Situated in Newport News on the south eastern coast of Virginia, Jefferson Laboratory (JLab) is one of the world’s leading facilities for hadron physics. There has been strong UK involvement at JLab since 1996, supported by STFC and EPSRC funding.

Nuclear Structure, Astrophysics and Reactions (NUSTAR) project for the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR)

The STFC Nuclear Physics Group, along with the universities of Birmingham, Brighton, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Surrey, west of Scotland and York were funded by STFC, to construct components for three experiments in the Nuclear Structure, Astrophysics and Reactions (NUSTAR) project for the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) laboratory at GSI in Darmstadt, Germany.

In the Reactions with Relativistic Radioactive Beams (R3B) project, the UK collaboration was responsible for the construction of the silicon tracker for the recoil detector array. The research that will be carried out at R3B hopes to shed light on the structure of the nucleus close to the limits of stability.

The High-Resolution Decay Spectroscopy experiment is looking to study the process by which many of the heavier elements are formed in supernovae. The UK was involved in the development of a new gamma-ray array that will be capable of detecting gamma-ray coincidences to an extremely high time resolution.

As part of the High-Resolution in-flight Spectroscopy (HISPEC) experiment, the UK developed the Lund-York-Cologne-CAlorimeter array and integrated AGATA into the experiment. The HISPEC project hopes to measure electromagnetic transitions in exotic, unstudied nuclei.

Why we're doing it

A nucleus is a system of protons and neutrons, themselves composed of further sub-constituents (quarks), held together by the strong force.

The broad aim of nuclear physics research is to study the properties and structure of nuclei, and the mechanisms involved in their creation. This poses questions about the limits of nuclear stability, the fundamental physical processes that governed the formation of light nuclei in the first moments after the Big Bang, and the subsequent synthesis of heavier nuclei within stars.

Nuclear physics research provides technologies which are transferable to wider applications, benefiting society in a range of areas including medicine, power production and security.

Nuclear physics aims to answer fundamental questions such as:

  • what is the nature of nuclear matter?
  • how do quarks and gluons form hadrons?
  • are there new phases of strongly interacting matter?
  • what are the fundamental particles and fields?
  • how do nuclear reactions power astrophysical processes and create the chemical elements?

Opportunities, support and resources available

Funding opportunities

Funding for nuclear physics exploitation can be obtained through the nuclear physics consolidated grants round.

Search for funding opportunities.

Who to contact

Nuclear physics programme

Jamie Parkin, Head of Nuclear Physics and Particle Astrophysics


Melanie Kidd, Programme Manager Particle Astrophysics and Nuclear Physics


Governance, management and panels

The Nuclear Physics Advisory Panel provides a link between STFC Science Board and the nuclear physics community, and represents the needs of the community to STFC.

STFC’s Nuclear Physics Group is based at the Daresbury Laboratory. The group’s main role is to support and contribute to the UK’s nuclear structure research programme.

The members of Nuclear Physics Group offer expertise in a number of different specialised areas. They are involved in the design and installation of equipment in facilities around the world. The group responds to requests for support from the UK nuclear physics community and others. The nuclear physicists in the group also have their own research programmes which are carried out at international facilities, often in collaboration with other groups.

Last updated: 31 July 2023

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