Rutherford Appleton Laboratory


Lasers for Science Facility

The Lasers for Science Facility (LSF) is located in the Research Complex at Harwell (RCaH). Our aim is to work closely with other RcaH residents, colleagues in other facilities on the Harwell campus, and the academic community, to promote high-impact interdisciplinary research that requires access to the very latest technology and expertise in laser imaging and ultrafast spectroscopy.

Key facts

The LSF operates the OCTOPUS imaging cluster, a central core of lasers coupled to a set of advanced interconnected microscopy stations that can be used to image samples from single molecules to whole cells and tissues, and the ULTRA cluster, a range of ultrafast light sources giving unprecedented flexibility to combine multiple beams, multiple colours, mixed timing patterns, and pulse length to address scientific problems in the physical and life sciences. We also operate a loan pool providing academics with lasers for use in their own laboratories.

The instrumentation is supported by a team of biological scientists, laser physicists, and data analysis experts to provide a complete solution to scientific problems ‘from concept to publication’.


Functional Biosystems Imaging

The Functional Biosystems Imaging (FBI) group is the home of the OCTOPUS imaging cluster. This is an advanced imaging facility operating together with the Molecular Structural Dynamics Group.

A range of multicolour light sources give unprecedented flexibility to combine multiple beams, multiple colours, and timing capabilities. OCTOPUS offers a range of imaging techniques including multidimensional single molecule microscopy, confocal microscopy (FLIM, FRET, and multiphoton), and optical profilometry.

The modular nature of OCTOPUS allows the development and exploitation of new advanced imaging techniques as they become available, to address grand challenges in the life sciences area.

The imaging science programme is supported with access to other techniques such as optical tweezers and access to the facilities of the MSD group. Biological laboratory facilities and expertise in sample preparation are an integral part of the FBI’s activity.

Molecular Structure and Dynamics

The Molecular Structure and Dynamics (MSD) Facility houses the ULTRA advanced time-resolved spectroscopy and the Optical and Raman Tweezers facilities, working closely alongside the FBI to determine the structure and function of chemical and biological samples.

ULTRA combines laser, detector and sample manipulation technology to provide molecular dynamics (on the femtosecond to microsecond timescales) to address scientific problems in the physical and life sciences. A range of ultrafast light sources give unprecedented flexibility to combine multiple beams, multiple colours (UV – mid-IR), mixed timing patterns (fs-µs) and pulse length (20 fs, 50 fs, 120 fs, 2-3 ps, 0.8 ns, 6 ns and CW).

Operations within the MSD and FBI are supported by the Optical and Raman Tweezers Facility that provides the unique ability to manipulate microscopic particles dispersed in a liquid medium and to measure small forces on those particles in a non-intrusive and non-destructive manner.

A comprehensive range of diagnostic instrumentation and techniques are available.


LSF knowledge exchange activities

LSF has a strong track record of applying the results of its innovative research in the knowledge exchange area, thus ensuring a high return on UK’s investment into science and strengthening UK’s international competitiveness.

Knowledge exchange activities take up multiple forms and include:

  • provision of expertise and beamtime at LSF facilities
  • generation of intellectual property through its scientific research (new patents, know-how)
  • licensing of intellectual property
  • formation of new spin-out companies in close partnership with STFC Innovations Ltd
    marketing niche equipment developed through its advanced research programmes
    training of next generation of scientists (for example PhD and postdoctoral research associates)
  • participating in the development of Harwell Science and Innovation Campus and working in partnership with its residents.


The LSF presently supports two STFC spin-outs:

  • Cobalt: A new spin-out launched in 2008 to commercialise novel laser spectroscopy techniques developed at LSF’s ultrafast laser facilities through a programme of scientific research yielding eight patent filings. The new technology is applicable in a wide range of areas including process control in pharmaceutical industry and security screening.
  • L3 Technology: A spin-out of the former Synchrotron Radiation Department at Daresbury Laboratory developing advanced spectroscopy instrumentation for accurate tests of cholesterol levels in blood. It has recently secured a second round investment of £1.75 million, enabling the company to commercialise its patented technology that will provide rapid point of care cholesterol testing with laboratory accuracy.


Dr Dave Clarke, Head of Lasers for Science Facility

Telephone: 01235 567035

Last updated: 11 April 2024

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