Aerial view of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
|National scientific research laboratory|
Field of research
|Location||Chilton, Oxfordshire, England|
|Science and Technology |
The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) is one of the national scientific research laboratories in the UK operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). It began as the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory, merged with the Atlas Computer Laboratory in 1975 to create the Rutherford Lab; then in 1979 with the Appleton Laboratory to form the current laboratory.
It is located on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus at Chilton near Didcot in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. It has a staff of approximately 1,200 people who support the work of over 10,000 scientists and engineers, chiefly from the university research community. The laboratory's programme is designed to deliver trained manpower and economic growth for the UK as the result of achievements in science.
The National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science (NIRNS) was formed in 1957 to operate the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory established next to the Atomic Energy Research Establishment on the former RAF Harwell airfield between Chilton and Harwell. The 50 MeV proton linear accelerator was transferred from the Atomic Energy Research Establishment to the new laboratory to become a national facility for particle physics as the Nimrod (synchrotron). Some components of this linear accelerator are still operating as part of the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source injector linac over 50 years after their first use. Since then the laboratory has grown both with the expansion of its established facilities, and the incorporation of facilities from other institutions to provide the benefits from economies of scale. The major mergers were in 1975 with the adjacent Atlas Computer Laboratory creating the Rutherford Laboratory, and then in 1979 with the Appleton Laboratory to form the current Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. With the closure of the Royal Greenwich Observatory in 1998, some small offices also moved to RAL. Similarly, laser technology moved to RAL from Joint European Torus at Culham to become the foundation of the Central Laser Facility.
To be able to decide the priorities for government funding across all areas of scientific research, the Science & Technology Act of 1965 created the Science Research Council (SRC) which took over management of the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory from NIRNS along with many other previously disparate UK science bodies. To prioritise economic impact over blue skies research, the SRC became the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) in the early 1980s, and in 1994, the SERC was eventually divided into three Research Councils (the EPSRC, PPARC and the CCLRC - which took responsibility for RAL from EPSRC in 1995), so that each could then focus its development around one of three incompatible business models - administratively efficient short duration grant distribution, medium term commitments to international agreements, long term commitments to staff and facilities provision. To unify the planning of the provision for UK scientists to access large national and international facilities, in 2007 the CCLRC merged with PPARC and incorporated the nuclear physics discipline from EPSRC to create the Science and Technology Facilities Council which then took responsibility for RAL.
The site hosts some of the UK's major scientific facilities, including:
Also hosted are:
In addition to hosting facilities for the UK, RAL also operates departments to co-ordinate the UK programme of participation in major international facilities. The largest of these are the areas of particle physics, and space science.
In space science, RAL builds components for, and tests satellites, as well as receiving, analysing and curating the data collected by those spacecraft. Satellite missions in which RAL has a significant role include:
This section possibly contains original research. (June 2010) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
In recent years, there has been an increasing political drive towards requiring that the science undertaken at RAL and the technology created there result in a proportional economic benefit to the UK to justify the investment of public funds in the laboratory. RAL management have argued that this is achieved in various ways, including:
According to its Annual Report from 2017-2018, STFC expects the end of the ISIS pulsed neutron source and the associated Second Target Station to be in 2040 and anticipates decommissioning to take 55 years. The cost of radioactive waste disposal could range between £9 million and £16 million.:51