£0.47M Investment into Octopus Imaging Cluster as part of Multi-million pound funding boost for Oxfordshire science laboratories
08 Jan 2021



The UK Government has announced up to £8million will be invested in laboratory upgrades and a further £13million in science campus improvements in Oxfordshire.

RAL site birds eye view


​The investment will enable upgrades of the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) based near Didcot. This support will enable them to meet some of the biggest challenges in physics and engineering including the ongoing search for dark matter, helping to test satellites before launch and support work on quantum interferometry projects.

This is thanks to a major £213 million government investment announced Wednesday 6th January to upgrade the UK's scientific infrastructure.

£470,000 of this investment has been dedicated to an imaging system for fast freezing to support bio-science experiments on the OCTOPUS imaging cluster at the Central Laser Facility (CLF). This capability is especially useful in biological research because you can see details without destroying specimens and can be used to image live specimens. Maintaining the cellular structure of those specimens, however, has been a challenge.

The best way to preserve cellular structures is to fast-freeze the specimens and maintain their frozen state at a temperature below -140°C, also known as cryogenic conditions.

Professor Marisa Martin-Fernandez, Octopus Group Leader, Central Laser Facility, STFC, said: “Using a combination of microscopy techniques enables us to understand much more about biological systems. The Harwell campus is contributing to the UK's efforts in this area by bringing together the world class imaging facilities at the Central Laser Facility and Diamond/eBIC. The imaging system to support rapid freezing sample preparation will enable us to stop biological processes at critical stages before imaging the samples with multiple microscopy techniques. This will provide new insights into the workings of human cells in health and disease."

In addition to this investment, a further £900,000 will go to into high performance computing infrastructure to support the data analysis from the UK's large multidisciplinary facilities, the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, the Diamond Light Source, and the Central Laser Facility.

Other investments at RAL include:

  • £3 million will also update precision machining equipment to support a wide range of science and technology programmes ranging from quantum sensors to components for space satellites.
  • £1 million for a Strontium Source Laboratory to allow work on cold-atom sensors and instruments. This will support work on quantum projects recently recognised as a future priority infrastructure for the UK, and act as a local testing ground for larger-scale devices to be delivered by RAL departments.
  • £140,000 to the Deuterium-Deuterium neutron source alongside the already-planned Deuterium-Tritium source at ISIS Neutron and Muon Source to support work on dark matter detection, dosimetry, and solid state neutron detection.
  • £500,000 towards the completion of the thermal vacuum satellite test chambers in STFC's RAL Space, to support the test and calibration of larger space flight instruments for both industrial and academic customers.

These new facilities will ensure that STFC's Didcot-based campus will remain at the forefront of global research and show the UK is the best place in the world for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to live and work.

 Read UK Research and Innovation's news article here.​

Contact: Towrie, Helen (STFC,RAL,CLF)