UK invests £16million in frontier nuclear physics research

14 August 2017

The ALICE detector at CERN

The ALICE detector.
(Credit: CERN)

The latest investment in the UK’s world-leading nuclear physics research community has been announced today.

The UK’s frontier research in nuclear physics ranks first in the world by citation impact and this latest support is worth £16million over the next four years, enabling researchers to continue to hunt for answers to some of the biggest mysteries in nuclear physics, including the astrophysical origins of the elements and the evolution of stars.

This latest funding award from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) will support eight proposals from 11 UK teams to work on world-leading experimental and theoretical nuclear physics research.

The questions these research projects are looking to answer include:

  • What is the nature of dark matter?
  • How do the laws of physics work when driven to extremes?
  • How did the Universe begin and how is it evolving?
  • What are the properties of quark-gluon plasma – the primordial state of nuclear matter?
  • Where do the heavy elements originate from?

Professor Grahame Blair, STFC Executive Director for Programmes, said: “This investment in new science by the UK is recognition of the fantastic work already being undertaken by the UK’s nuclear physicists. This new research will be instrumental in helping us to grow our understanding in some of the most exciting areas of science and also to bring on future generations of skilled researchers in the field.”

As well as developing our understanding of nature at a fundamental level, nuclear physics research also has some important applications which benefit society. The increasingly powerful and sensitive detectors used to study the structure and dynamics of nuclear systems can be used in the medical sector to create significantly improved medical scanners, which can produce better images at a faster rate. Advances in radiation detectors can also be used to develop more accurate radiation treatment techniques for cancer.

Facilities which are used for nuclear data studies can be used to create high radiation environments similar to those found in nuclear reactors. Techniques developed to measure radiation levels can be utilised in the nuclear power industry, where they can be used to test instruments and detectors designed for safety monitoring.

Professor John Simpson, Head of the STFC’s Nuclear Physics Group, said: “I am pleased to see the UK is continuing to invest in frontier nuclear physics research.”

“It is vitally important maintain support and development this key research community, not just for academic purposes but also to continue to contribute to the UK’s technology and innovation sector.”

These funding awards highlight the global nature of nuclear physics research being undertaken by teams in the UK. The groups will use a range of international facilities including ISOLDE and ALICE at CERN in Switzerland, FAIR in Germany, TRIUMF in Canada, Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, RIKEN in Japan and GANIL in France, as well as UK facilities such as the cyclotron at Birmingham University.

STFC is funding nuclear physics research at the following institutions: Birmingham University, Edinburgh University, Glasgow University, Liverpool University, STFC Daresbury and Derby University, Manchester University, Surrey and Brighton Universities, the University of the West of Scotland and University of York.

As well as supporting university groups, the grants will fund a cross-community team of engineers who have many years of experience in developing and commissioning new detectors and instruments at national laboratories – and also have responsibility for maintaining the instruments while in operation. These engineers enjoy a well-deserved international reputation for their expertise in specific areas of technology and provide support to the whole of the UK nuclear physics community. As well as supporting the research programmes at the universities, they also support STFC-funded projects including the ALICE upgrade at CERN.

The outstanding reputation of the UK nuclear physics community internationally is dependent on the technical capabilities of the cross-community staff, both in the design of new experimental detectors, facilities and systems and in the necessary operation and maintenance of current UK-led experimental systems that are used by a large number of international collaborations. These research projects will ensure the UK remains a major partner in the global nuclear physics research community.

Media contact:

Becky Parker-Ellis
STFC Media office
01793 444564

Notes to editors:

STFC provides support for experimental and theoretical nuclear physics. This includes the following where the aim is to enable research in fundamental nuclear physics:

  • experimental work carried out at facilities
  • design and research and development of instruments and detector systems
  • analysis and interpretation of data
  • development and study of theoretical frameworks.

STFC also provides schemes to support the application and commercialisation of STFC funded research (including nuclear physics research described above).

Research proposals submitted to STFC are assessed by each Research Council under its normal peer review process and evaluated against its priorities and strategy.

STFC's Nuclear Physics webpage.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000