Formed in 2007, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is a world-leading multi-disciplinary science organisation.
We work alongside some of the world’s most advanced research communities – like CERN, the European Space Agency and Universities UK – managing facilities and supporting cutting-edge science.
From the outset, STFC has had a clear mission: to deliver economic, societal, scientific and international benefits to the UK and its people – and more broadly to the world.
We achieve this by working closely with industry, universities, scientific facilities and scientists themselves, bringing together talent and resources to maximise the impact of scientific research.
Over the past 10 years, STFC has supported pioneering discoveries and delivered research that has changed people’s lives for the better.
So on STFC’s 10th anniversary, we look back at our achievements and onwards to all that lies ahead. There is much to look forward to. STFC focus is, and always has been, at the very heart of innovation and progress.
(Credit: Max Alexander)
The UK’s ‘synchrotron’, Diamond Light Source is comparable to a giant microscope. It produces beams of electrons, which scientists can use to explore things like cancer cells, nanotech materials and advanced drugs, on the atomic and molecular level.
In 2007, Diamond launched up for the first time, with funding from STFC and the Wellcome Trust. It’s since been home to countless discoveries, including a pioneering new approach to vaccines and research into the biological causes of stress and depression.
CERN in Geneva is home to the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator—the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This advanced machine collides beams of particles into one another at almost the speed of light, creating showers of new particles for physicists to study. What we find there gives us a deeper understanding of the Universe.
STFC manages the UK’s membership of CERN; UK physicists, engineers and technicians are actively involved in operating and developing the LHC and its experiments, and made significant contributions to the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012. Since it started operating in 2008, the LHC has increased its energy and beam intensity, and remains at the forefront of international high energy physics research.
(Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab)
Comets are celestial bodies, mostly made up of dust and ice. Shooting through the solar system, these objects are billions years old, and studying them can help to provide an insight into the formation of the solar system.
In 2008, scientists from the University of Leicester began using Diamond Light Source to study the composition of samples brought back from a comet called Wild2. In the years that followed, the group made some fascinating discoveries, including evidence that the comet once contained water: information that had helped change our understanding of the early solar system.
Located in rural Oxfordshire, Harwell Campus is a leading site for science, innovation, technology and business. It is host to 5,000 people and over £1 billion of world leading research infrastructure.
The Harwell Campus was formed in 2009 as a joint venture between Harwell Oxford Developments Ltd and STFC. This arrangement has allowed collaboration to flourish, and the site now boasts state-of-the-art scientific facilities, leading-edge research and some of the world’s greatest talent.
(© ESA/Herschel/Ph. André, D. Polychroni, A. Roy, V. Könyves, N. Schneider for the Gould Belt survey Key Programme)
The Herschel Space Observatory hosts a cutting-edge telescope and scientific equipment, which allows us to explore some of the coldest and most distant objects in the Universe. Orbiting through space, Herschel’s telescope is made up of a fast mirror, and exploits a technique called infrared spectroscopy to shed new insights into the formation and evolution of galaxies and stars.
Launched in 2009, Herschel has now completed its mission, but now comes the hard part: studying the data. Alongside the UK Space Agency (UKSA), STFC supports the Herschel mission by funding research into the observatory’s findings.
In 2010, the European Space Agency (ESA) selected Harwell Campus to host its first UK Business and Incubation Centre (BIC). The Centre helps entrepreneurs and high tech start-up companies to translate space technologies, applications and services into business ideas.
To date, ESA BIC Harwell has supported over 50 businesses, in everything from regenerative healthcare, to state-of-the-art mobile apps. At Harwell, businesses gain access to cutting-edge STFC facilities such as Diamond Light Source, the Central Laser Facility and the ISIS Neutron Source.
The centre is managed and co-funded by STFC, and our investment has helped to drive forward a decade of high-tech business growth and innovation.
(Credit: Dr R Ahmed, Heriot Watt University)
As the population continues to age, the lifespan of medical components is becoming an increasingly pressing issue. Over 50,000 hip implant operations are performed in the UK every year, and are mostly successful. But in some cases, the implant can fail and patients are put through an additional gruelling operation.
In 2010, Dr Rehan Ahmed and his team from Heriot-Watt University began using the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source to study some of the processes that can cause implants to fail. Exploiting the power of neutron beams – which can penetrate through tough materials – the group created a stress profile for the implants. Their work tells us more about how and why implants can fail, and what we can do to prevent it.
In 2011, ISIS Target Station 2 was awarded a £21 million investment from the UK government to build a suite of new instruments. Named ChipIr, Zoom, Larmor and IMAT, these instruments support advanced neutron research in a broad range of fields, including energy, technology, aerospace and healthcare.
2011 saw scientists from the Central Laser Facility, the Computational Science and Engineering Department (CSED), and the Research Complex at Harwell (RCaH) crack a puzzle that had been confounded scientists for over 30 years.
Cell growth in the body is carefully regulated, but when things go wrong it can lead to the spread of cancer. 2011 saw an important discovery in the field of cancer research, when scientists from STFC and Kings College London determined the precise atomic shape of a molecule that instructs cells to grow and divide.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the successor to Hubble, will feature a camera so sensitive that it could see a candle on one of Jupiter’s moons.
The Mid InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) – the very first instrument to be constructed for the JWST, by over 200 engineers, was handed over to NASA in 2012. The pioneering technology will allow astronomers to study the formation of planets around stars, and could even lead to the discovery of other habitable planets.
The telescope, due for launch in 2018, is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Support for the operation of JWST is funded by the UK Space Agency (UKSA). STFC is integral to the project. It is already providing cutting-edge instrumentation and in the future will help analyse the data returned from the mission.
2012 witnessed the historic discovery of the Higgs boson. Known as the God Particle, this is the particle that gives all other particles mass, and its discovery marked a significant breakthrough in our understanding of the Universe.
STFC pays the UK contribution to the CERN budget, including the LHC detectors that found the Higgs boson. And experiments at CERN continue to yield new insights into the fundamental nature of the world around us.
(Credit: Lee Pullen, AT-Bristol Science Centre)
Launched in 2012, ‘Explore your Universe’ is a national programme of events and activities centred around the physical sciences.
The programme is run by STFC in partnership with The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC), and is hosted at 29 different locations around the UK. Explore Your Universe aims to ‘inspire a sense of excitement amongst young people around the physical sciences by sharing the amazing stories and technologies of STFC’.
Between 2012 and 2015, over 341,000 people visited an Explore Your Universe event, with four out of every five saying they were more interested in science as a result. Importantly, feedback also shows the Explore Your Universe events to be just as effective with girls as with boys.
In 2013, the UK government, in collaboration with IBM, set up the Hartree Centre to provide UK business and academia with access to high performance computing and data analysis. The Centre’s vision is to support national growth by accelerating the adoption of data-centric computing, big data and cognitive technologies.
The Hartree Centre was formally established in 2013 with a £37.5m Government investment to increase and encourage the use of high performance computing in industrial research and development. Since then, and with a further two significant Government investments focused on big data, every efficient computing and cognitive computing (bringing the total to over £170M), the centre’s remit and capabilities have expanded significantly and very quickly.
(Credit: University of Manchester)
In 2013, scientists observed the birth of a massive star within a dark cloud core about 10,000 light years from Earth. The UK-led team used the most powerful radio telescope in the world to view the event: the powerful ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array) telescope in Chile, launched just months before.
This unprecedented discovery demonstrated that the formation of the star created a gravitational pull, which drew surrounding matter into the centre of the huge gaseous cloud. This was one of the first discoveries supported by ALMA, which has helped us to understand the complex mechanics of the Universe.
(Credit: John Womersley, STFC)
The Newton Fund is a government initiative designed to encourage science and innovation partnerships between the UK and developing economies. Part of the UK’s official development assistance programme, the Newton Fund aim to generate economic and social benefits for partner countries through science and innovation projects.
Research Councils UK is one of several UK delivery partners for the Newton Fund, and STFC will be supporting a range of related projects over the course of five years.
(Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
In 2014, Rosetta became the first spacecraft to successfully rendezvous with a comet, opening a new chapter in Solar System exploration. Shortly after making contact with the comet, Rosetta launched a lander named Philae onto the comet’s surface. Here, it made measurements and gathered data, giving us an unprecedented insight into these mysterious celestial objects.
Alongside the UK and European Space Agencies, STFC were a key partner in the mission. STFC scientists designed one of Philae’s instruments: Ptolemy, which collected data to explore the relationship between water ice on comets and the Earth’s oceans.
The summer of 2015 saw the Harwell Campus throw open its doors to the public. STFC organised the popular event in partnership with Harwell Campus and Diamond Light Source. Approximately 16,000 people visited the site, enjoying workshops, activities, and a rare look inside some of the UK’s most advanced scientific facilities. The event proved so successful that it was followed up a year later by an open week at STFC's Daresbury Laboratory.
(Credit: ICVBC, Italy)
In 2015, UK and Italian scientists demonstrated that a new laser technique could reveal detailed information on priceless artworks without causing any damage. Using the technique on centuries-old religious murals and sculptures, the group found that they could penetrate through the surface layers to reveal the chemical composition of the paint layers beneath.
The technique is a real breakthrough for cultural heritage, as it can identify any areas of decay in the materials beneath the paint and pinpoint any earlier conservation work that may have occurred. But the ability to study the intimate make-up of matter without causing damage could also be used in biology, forensics and manufacturing.
The Higgs Centre was launched in 2016, building on the successful business incubation model pioneered by STFC and its partners at Harwell Campus and Sci-Tech Daresbury.
The UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) in Edinburgh is behind the new centre, which is sited at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. This ground-breaking new facility, run in partnership with the University of Edinburgh, will house 12 small businesses.
Residents will benefit from surrounding expertise in big data and space science. UK ATC is a hub for the development of instrumentation used in space research, including some of the world’s biggest telescopes. On-site scientists also carry out observational and theoretical research into fundamental questions, like the origins of planets and galaxies.
(© Christian Reisswig, Luciano Rezzolla, Max-Planck-Institut für Gravitationsphysik (Albert-Einstein-Institut/AEI)/ Michael Koppitz, Max-Planck-Institut für Gravitationsphysik (Albert-Einstein-Institut/AEI)/Zuse-Institut Berlin
2016 may be remembered as the year everything changed for physics, after an international collaboration of scientists discovered evidence of gravitational waves. These waves can be thought of as ripples in the fabric of space and time. When major events take place, like the collision of black holes, it creates ripples that spread through space – but these ripples had never before been detected, until now.
The finding confirms the last of Einstein’s predictions regarding space, time and general relativity, and provides researchers with a powerful new means of exploring the observable Universe. As a key member of the global LIGO Scientific Collaboration, STFC’s support was instrumental in the success of the mission, and our scientists collaborated to produce the data and analysis necessary to identify the waves.
An X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) is a type of particle accelerator that generates intense bursts of X-ray beams. These beams can be used to peer right into atomic and molecular heart of matter, helping us to study viruses and other biological matter, chemical reactions and physical phenomenon in unprecedented detail. Under construction in Hamburg, Germany, the European XFEL will begin operations in 2017.
In 2014, the UK government announced that the UK would become the 12th member of the European XFEL project, joining Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. STFC is now working with the European XFEL project and the other partners to support UK membership.
Already, 2017 has seen the announcement of a ground-breaking discovery from the LHC at CERN. In March, scientists from the experiment announced that they had discovered, not one, but five new particles.
These mysterious particles contain just three ‘quarks’: elementary particles that are a fundamental constituent of matter. The new particles were picked up thanks to the highly sensitive equipment at CERN, which is funded in part by STFC. The findings demonstrate the enormous capability of this state-of-the-art equipment, and reveal new insights into the fundamental physics of our world.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a project to build the world’s largest radio telescope. The facility, which will be split over sites in South Africa and Australia, will have a transformational impact on astronomy.
Made up of an array of antennas, the SKA will be the world’s largest public science data project and will generate about 10 times more data than internet usage worldwide. The telescope will be able to detect radio signals from billions of light years away, helping us to learn more about the fundamental physics of space, the possibility of life on other planets, and how the Universe began and evolved over billions of years.
SKA is scheduled to launch in 2020, and the UK will contribute £100 million to the construction of the instrument.
When it begins operations in 2023, the European Spallation Source (ESS) will be the most powerful neutron source in the world. Its beams will help scientists to look deep into the fundamental structure of materials, and will be a vital resource for research into health and medicine, cultural heritage, environmental technology and much more. STFC will lead the UK’s contribution to this historic project.
Extremely Large Telescopes are a cornerstone of cutting-edge astronomical research. These powerful machines allow scientists to study planets, black holes and dark matter in astonishing details.
Work on the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) in Chile began in 2005, with operations expected to launch in 2024. STFC will be heavily involved in the construction and operation of the telescope and its instruments, set to be the most advanced of its kind. When completed, the ELT will be the largest infrared and optical telescope in the world.