UK's world leading laser facility celebrates 40 outstanding years

20 June 2017

Image of the conference hall filled with people

A full house for the ‘Forty years of the UK’s Central Laser Facility’ conference
(Credit: STFC)

STFC’s Central Laser Facility is celebrating forty years of spectacular science and achievement as one of the world’s most advanced laser research, development, exploitation and training facilities.

The lasers developed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Central Laser Facility (CLF) over the past forty years are in use at many research facilities around the world and its expertise is recognised around the globe. In addition the CLF has a strong background in innovation, technology transfer and spin-out companies.

Based at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory site in Oxfordshire the CLF has been keeping the UK at the forefront of laser science for forty years by discovering and developing new technologies. From humble beginnings with just a single laser, the facility now has a large suite of instruments, and works with and for researchers and organisations around the world.

Celebrating the anniversary this week Professor John Collier, Director of the STFC Central Laser Facility said:

"For forty years the team of CLF scientists, engineers and researchers here in Oxfordshire have been developing laser technologies and techniques that have been instrumental in opening up new areas of study and research. Part of our success has been down to the way we have listened with our many collaborator organisations in academia and in the commercial sector and evolved to reflect science's growing and changing demands."

The technology developed by CLF has a range of potential uses including new medical applications, imaging capabilities and the processing of novel materials. Over the last forty years the partnership between CLF staff and the large number of members of UK and European universities who use the specialised laser equipment has led to a broad range of experiments in physics, chemistry and biology that has enhanced our understanding of the world around us.

STFC’s Chief Executive Dr Brian Bowsher said of the 40th anniversary:

“Our expert staff have been at the heart of the CLF’s success over the last forty years. The organisation has grown from a handful of people working on a single laser to a facility with more than 100 full-time staff, involved in hundreds of international collaborations. This makes the CLF not only an international hub for skills and excellence in laser science but also a research facility that everyone at STFC is immensely proud of. I look forward with great interest to see what John and his team will achieve next.”

Dr Andrew Taylor, Professor Sir Peter Knight and Dr Brian Bowsher

Speakers at the CLF 40th Anniversary included Dr Andrew Taylor, Executive Director of STFC National Laboratories, Professor Sir Peter Knight from Imperial College London and STFC Chief Executive Dr Brian Bowsher
(Credit: STFC)

Recent innovations involving the CLF team have included developing scanning technology that detects the chemical contents of passengers’ unopened containers to prevent potentially explosive materials being smuggled onto aircraft and work developing laser tweezers to enable researchers to better understand the structure and function of a molecule.

Wide-ranging laser applications have included experiments in physics, chemistry and biology, accelerating subatomic particles to high energies, probing chemical reactions and studying biochemical and biophysical processes. The CLF is currently building a DiPOLE100 laser for the European XFEL, where it will be used to recreate the conditions found within stars.

CLF is also the home of record breaking technology. When it commenced operations in 1977 with the launch of the Vulcan laser its two-beam, 0.5-terawatt laser emitted an optical pulse that is as powerful as the total energy produced by all of the world’s wind turbines today. Those records continue to be broken and at the start of 2017 came the news that the CLF’s DiPOLE 100 laser, delivered under contract to the Czech Republic’s HiLASE centre, had officially become the most powerful laser of its kind in the world. The laser delivered ten pulses per second (with 100 joules per pulse at 1kw), and is the first to combine both high energy levels and a significant number of pulses per second.

STFC is celebrating the 40th anniversary by, today, hosting a one day conference on the ‘Impact and Importance of UK Laser Science on the Global Stage’. Leading speakers from the world of laser science will be speaking at the event including renowned physicist Professor Sir Peter Knight from Imperial College London. However, the CLF has no plans to rest on its laurels just yet. The CLF team, led by Director John Collier, has an ambitious science programme planned for the up-coming years that will to continue to push the boundaries of laser science into new territory.

Some projects being explored involve using lasers to create mass from light and developing uses for laser-based accelerators in sectors such as medicine, aerospace, nuclear, security and defence.

Further collaboration, this time with other facilities on the Harwell Campus may also see the CLF providing deeper insights into biological, medical and materials science. By working with the Research Complex at Harwell, Diamond Light Source Ltd., and The Rosalind Franklin Institute, the CLF can contribute to the establishment of a world-leading centre for multimodal imaging.


What does it take to be a world-leading facility? Insights from the UK’s Central Laser Facility.

CLF Innovation and technology transfer.

STFC Contact

Jake Gilmore
M: 07970994586


Notes to Editor

The Central Laser Facility (CLF)

CLF at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is one of the world’s leading laser facilities providing scientists from the UK and Europe with an unparalleled range of state-of-the-art laser technology. The CLF’s wide ranging applications include experiments in physics, chemistry and biology, accelerating subatomic particles to high energies, probing chemical reactions on the shortest timescales and studying biochemical and biophysical process critical to life itself.

From advanced, compact, tuneable lasers which can pinpoint individual particles to high power laser installations that recreate the conditions inside stars, a vigorous development programme ensures that our facilities maintain their international competitiveness.

The CLF is also a hub for skills and excellence within its scientific arena, exemplified by its skills training programme. The skills training programme provides a much-needed opportunity for new PhD students (and established scientists new to the field) to learn the key skills they will need to run high-power laser experiments, and meet other members of the community. Typically, training weeks have been funded by the CLF for students at UK universities, but have more recently been run at the request of other international facilities, such as the Extreme Light Infrastructure - Nuclear Physics facility (ELI-NP) in Romania and Laserlab Europe.

By attending training weeks, students are able to pick up a huge range of skills (including laser and plasma diagnostics, optics characterisation, laser safety, vacuum and cryogenic systems, targetry, and overall project management) and explore the fundamentals of setting up and running an experiment in a relaxed environment.

Since 2000, 166 people have completed the CLF’s skills training programme. These include a number of people who have gone onto the leadership positions at national laboratories around the world, such as Dr Paul McKenna, Professor at University of Strathclyde, Dr Mingsheng Wei, Senior Scientist at General Atomics in San Diego and Dr Stuart Mangles, Senior Lecturer Imperial College London.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000