Laser setup in dark lab

State-of-the-art laser research centre gets £81m funding

Image credit: Dreamstime

The government is to inject £81m funding into a new advanced imaging centre, which will use powerful lasers to generate precise 3D images of the internal structure of objects. Applications will range from medical science to military vehicle engineering.

The new Extreme Photonics Applications Centre is a facility run by a partnership of academics, industry, UKRI and the Ministry of Defence. It will open in 2024 and is based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.

It will be home to some world-leading facilities, which could accelerate the development of medical treatments and improve manufacturing processes.

The centre will build on the Nobel-prizewinning work of Professor Donna Strickland, a pioneer in extreme laser physics based at the University of Waterloo. Her work developing intense ultrashort laser pulses has already transformed sectors and fields of medicine.

Among other projects, the centre will use intensely bright lasers (generated using a 10Hz petawatt laser accelerator) to build precise 3D images of the internal structures of objects in a matter of seconds or minutes rather than hours or days. This technique could be used to scan the interior of all sorts of objects from diseased bones to aircraft wings.

The government has announced a £81m investment in the Extreme Photonics Applications Centre, with funding provided through the R&D-focused Strategic Priorities Fund. It hopes that the centre will help accelerate medical treatments and lead to scientific breakthroughs, in addition to assisting industry such as by avoiding expensive manufacturing errors.

“Today’s launch of the £81m advanced imaging centre will enhance the UK’s leading role in laser technology, including revolutionising medical imaging,” said Chris Skidmore, the science minister. “I’m especially delighted to be launching the centre with Physics Nobel Prize winner Donna Strickland – only the third woman in history to achieve this award – on International Day of Women and Girls in Science.”

Strickland commented: “Science education helps develop skills in problem solving and critical thinking necessary to address some of the world’s biggest challenges. When we encourage girls and women to engage with science, they bring more diversity to science and fresh perspectives that can only help in finding innovative solutions.”

The investment was also welcomed by UKRI CEO Professor Sir Mark Walport, who said: “From informing the design of next-generation aerodynamic aircraft components to examining 3D images of human bones, the new Extreme Photonics Applications Centre has applications across many sectors of the economy.”

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