Success Stories

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Providing ventilators to the NHS

When the COVID-19 crisis struck, people like you were able to harness their technical ingenuity to help to solve the ventilator shortage. STFC’s technicians, engineers, and scientists were able to more than double the stock of ventilators available to the NHS by helping to deliver 13,437 ventilators as part of Ventilator Challenge UK.

“Our small but effective team of scientists, engineers and technicians volunteered to help with this urgent task and we were able to support, train, and, in some cases, lead parts of the testing and rework effort. We’ve made interesting connections outside the research community that will persist beyond the end of the Ventilator Challenge.”
Dr Kristian Harder, STFC Particle Physics Department.

Helping to understand space weather

The Sun literally powers all of life on Earth, but violent solar processes, such as solar flares, can have a disastrous effect on the electronic equipment upon which our daily lives depend. The latest mission sent to the Sun to help us understand the processes that power the violent events is the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter spacecraft.

One of the probe’s key instruments, SPICE (Spectral Investigation of the Coronal Environment), was designed and built by scientists and engineers at STFC’s RAL Space. The instrument is already observing previously unknown phenomena.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Solar-orbiter-1024x576.jpg
Credit: ESA
Developing AI to power COVID-19 ‘chatbot’

When it comes to crises such as COVID-19, the situation is constantly changing and information needs to be disseminated as fast as possible to key workers. Artificial intelligence (AI) experts at STFC’s Hartree Centre, are playing a key role in helping the Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool develop an AI ‘chatbot’ designed to help keep their staff updated with the latest information. The chatbot will help to quickly connect hospital staff with 24 hour access to the most up to date information possible.

Credit: Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

“This is a great example of how we can apply our expertise in AI and data science here at the Hartree Centre to help solve to real world problems and build resilience to new challenges in the future.”
Alison Kennedy, Director at STFC’s Hartree Centre

Providing the catalyst for truly green aviation fuel

Eliminating carbon emissions from the aviation industry is one of the great challenges of our age – as is reaching the UK’s target of being carbon neutral by 2050. At STFC, our staff, across our facilities and across disciplines, are working to make this a reality. One such team is working Reaction Engines to help combine their innovative technology with STFC’s world-class catalysts to create a truly green aviation system based on ammonia fuel.

Credit: Reaction Engines

“The combination of Reaction Engines’ transformative heat exchanger technology and the STFC’s innovative catalysts will enable development of a game-changing class of green ammonia-based aviation propulsion systems. Our study showed that an ammonia-fuelled jet engine could be adapted from currently available engines, and ammonia as a fuel doesn’t require a complete re-think of the design of civil aircraft as we know them today.”
Dr James Barth, engineering lead at Reaction Engines.

Cyber Security in connected autonomous vehicles
(Credit: Dreamstine)

As part of an Innovate UK funded project, the STFC Hartree® Centre worked with Chilton Computing, Huduma and Oxfordshire County Council as part of a consortium focusing on cyber security in connected autonomous vehicles.

Challenge

Advances in automotive technology have paved the way for organisations to explore connected vehicles, usually with their own internet connection that allows cars to exchange data with other devices such as navigation and entertainment systems. Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) bring a range of possible challenges such as communication with other vehicles and external infrastructure. This potentially makes CAVs susceptible to cyber attacks making it crucial to incorporate cyber security considerations in to their future development.

Approach

left-hand quote markWorking with Hartree Centre has enabled our company to take a fresh look at our computational approach for cyber risk assessment for the CAVs.right-hand quote mark

Erica Yang
Chilton Computing

Hartree Centre’s data science team used statistical methods to analyse publicly available data on various types of cyber attack, extracting the probability of occurrence. To address questions surrounding the use of cyber security in CAVs, the team used a game theoretic simulation methodology to describe a decision-making process for CAV designers as to whether they should invest. This incorporated results of the data analysis performed in the cyber attack dataset alongside practical considerations such as the impact of a potential cyber attack on the company to help guide decision making.

Benefits

This work was able to address a challenging issue by quantifying the security level of a CAV system. The team were able to develop a model for data-driven decision making in a CAV framework during a short, three month project. The proposed methodology to model decision making can easily be extended to facilitate additional factors that automotive companies might wish to take into account going forward. An example of this is the cost of a cyber security solution, both in terms of actual cost or whether solutions are compatible with existing software. Additionally, if CAV related cyber security data are made available, the results from analysis of these data can be used to further enhance the proposed game theoretic model for decision making.

Reducing the risk in vessel turn-arounds for ports
(Credit: Dreamstine)

Researchers based at the STFC Hartree® Centre worked with worked with Peel Ports Group – a leading UK port operator – to reduce uncertainty in available draft on vessels arriving and departing in ports using AI.

Challenge

left-hand quote markThis has allowed us to engage with world class technology research at the cutting edge of AI. The Proof of Concept has the potential to deliver significant efficiency improvements within the business and for our customers by enabling more efficient use of the berths and greater throughput of cargo.right-hand quote mark

Russell Bird 
Peel Ports Group

Uncertainty and inefficiency have huge cost implications in ports as vessels that are unable to dock due to lack of water depth leaves berths and labour standing idle. For shipping companies, arriving or departing with too little cargo is expensive – an additional 10 centimetres of draft on a typical oil tanker arriving into Tranmere Oil Terminal is worth approximately $500,000 – and delays can cost up to $100,000 per day. Tide heights have been accurately forecast for many years, but they are heavily affected by weather. The difference between predicted tide and observed height, known as the surge, can differ in tens of centimetres positively or negatively with up to a 1 metre difference in a storm. Peel Ports Group were looking to reduce uncertainty around the depth of available draft to enable ports and shipping groups to optimise cargo and reduce the risk of being stuck outside a port or grounding.

Approach

left-hand quote markWe have invested heavily in technology, in particular with the £400M fully automated Liverpool 2 deep-water container terminal that enables the largest vessels to call directly into the heart of the UK. Developing new solutions to increase productivity in the nonautomated parts of the business is key to staying ahead in this competitive global market.right-hand quote mark

Russell Bird
Peel Ports Group

The team worked to reduce forecast uncertainty up to 7 days in advance compared to existing methods that are based on the day’s weather which estimates available draft based on observation. Using machine learning models to combine multiple weather forecasts – an ‘ensemble’ of 24 forecasts – with local tide predictions and observations of weather and water levels, to provide better estimates of the available water depth several days in advance. This technique accurately predicted available draft so that port and shipping companies can efficiently target resources. The team imagine a system that links journey plans, arrivals and departures times to available draft, weather, berth and labour availability – maximising efficiency of port operations. For example, allowing a vessel loading in Antwerp to optimise cargo for delivery in to Tranmere 3 days later.

Benefits

The technology developed as part of the Innovation Return on Research (IROR) programme, a collaboration between STFC and IBM Research – will help Peel Ports Group to better understand the uncertainty around vessel arrivals and departures across their locations resulting in risk mitigation and increasing efficiency in ports like Liverpool, Heysham and Medway.

Improving the performance of cargo screening with particle accelerator science
Rapiscan Eagle M60
Rapiscan Eagle M60 (Credit: 2019 Rapiscan Systems)

Rapiscan Systems is using the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) particle accelerator facilities for innovative testing to improve the performance of systems that screen cargo for customs and security purposes.

Challenge

The efficient and secure movement of goods is important for national security and economic prosperity. Rapiscan Systems is a global provider of X-ray inspection systems for screening cargo, vehicles, baggage, and parcels, and constantly invests in new research and development (R&D) to maintain its position at the forefront of innovative technological developments. In particular, Rapiscan Systems (working with University College London, UCL) was interested in generating three-dimensional X-ray images for more comprehensive cargo screening to improve the detection of contraband and illicit material hidden within dense metal objects. In order to effectively test this technology, Rapiscan Systems wanted to avoid the limitations of ‘off-the-shelf’ accelerators and instead sought out a high-energy linear accelerator facility with controllable conditions and expertise in particle acceleration.

Solution

left-hand quote markRapiscan Systems is committed to ensuring the safety and security of cargo transport and the development of new and innovative imaging techniques. STFC’s high quality particle accelerator facilities, along with their expertise in particle acceleration, have been instrumental in helping us to carry out critical R&D testing.right-hand quote mark

Dr. James Ollier, Senior Radiation Physicist, Rapiscan Systems

STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory provided Rapiscan Systems with the ideal environment to perform the proof-of-principle and proof-of-concept experiments. Its particle acceleration facilities enabled the team to test the technology at high energy levels, and allowed for scattering X-ray photons off a variety of materials. Their scatter detectors provided valuable information to the scientists at Rapiscan Systems as they aimed to reduce the amount of scatter. These experiments are designed to examine the time of flight of the photons between the source of the X-ray photon and an object, allowing algorithms to approximate the position of an object. This type of photon counting can be done only at Daresbury Laboratory due to its high-precision equipment and controlled conditions. In addition, in order for the company to carry out its testing, STFC engineers developed specific equipment, which will be leveraged in future STFC projects as well.

Benefits

Rapiscan Systems is committed to the advancement of its X-ray inspection technology for screening cargo and vehicles, to help ensure the safety and security of ports and borders and they have been able to more effectively test, validate, and improve their products and processes with the assistance provided by STFC. STFC’s unique facilities, the expertise of their particle accelerator scientists, and their extended relationships with universities and researchers have greatly enhanced Rapiscan System’s R&D process.

Smarter and greener aviation supported by ESA BIC UK
Aircraft
(Credit: Photobank gallery/Shutterstock)

Satavia makes aviation ‘smarter’ and greener by providing environmental data and analytics that can be used by aircraft operators, manufacturers and maintenance companies to reduce damage to aircraft engines and components. Its DecisionX platform enables operators to modify flight plans to extend engine lifetimes and manufacturers to optimise engine performance and maintenance operations, saving millions of pounds per engine and reducing carbon emissions.

The challenge

Satavia was founded in 2013 by Adam Durant, who had recognised a business opportunity in providing avionics companies with data on aircraft exposure to damaging contaminants in the atmosphere, including dust, corrosive pollution, ice, sea salt, and volcanic ash. Satavia successfully bid for European Space Agency ARTES funding, and the team was keen to gain more external input to move the business forward and identified that the ESA BIC programme could provide that, both in terms of funding and business expertise.

left-hand quote markThe business mentoring support from the ESA BIC UK, and having access to the Harwell network and its space ecosystem, was invaluable – it really is very good for start-ups. And a lot of opportunities come from the activities of the ESA BIC UK’s Operations Manager, even after you’ve left the programme as an alumnus.right-hand quote mark

Adam Durant, Founder, Satavia

The solution

  • Business mentoring by the ESA BIC UK team
  • Connection to the Satellite Applications Catapult, including marketing support
  • Networking opportunities across Harwell Campus, in particular through the Harwell Space Cluster
  • Funding of €50,000

The benefits

Since graduating from the ESA BIC UK, Satavia has grown its team from 3 to 18 people across its original Cambridge site, and at a new office in Paris as part of Microsoft’s AI Factory. There it has developed a significant relationship with one of the major companies Satavia originally connected with at Harwell while at the ESA BIC UK. In November 2019, it launched an 18-month, €1.9 million demonstration project backed by ESA and the UK Space Agency, and it has recently received a £1 million equity investment. The business now has three blue chip customers and one patent, with six more in progress. Its continuing success has led to Satavia being a finalist and highly commended in numerous competitions and awards.

Aviation’s ACID Test
(Credit: bilaleldaou/Pixabay)
(Credit: bilaleldaou/Pixabay)

Air travel has grown exponentially, with 100 million passengers in 1960, compared to 3.7 billion today. With such large numbers of travellers, security is paramount. STFC supported researchers are developing two disruptive technologies to produce the fastest and most reliable automatic contraband identification security scanner.

Aviation security has historically used technology that only estimates if a material is a threat. This leads to false alarms, long delays through checkpoints and frustrated passengers. Supported by STFC, the Accelerated Contraband Identification by Diffraction (ACID) project will deliver a scanner to automatically identify contraband in postal and personal items such as phones and laptops.

The technologies utilised and developed as part of the ACID project make use of x-ray diffraction; this is the analysis of how x-rays scatter from when they interact with a material. Every material has a unique x-ray diffraction pattern and therefore can be identified by this, much like a fingerprint.

Researchers Professor Paul Evans from Nottingham Tent University (NTU), Professor Keith Rogers from Cranfield University and Matt Wilson from STFC form the ACID collaboration.

They have been able to overcome slow speed limits that hinder common x-ray diffraction by using a patented technique that amplifies the signal. Coupled with novel detectors developed by STFC, this unique combination of technique and technology is able to provide an accurate, fast, cost-effective and automatic security scanner that can identify contraband and threat materials.

The ACID team are compiling a database of diffraction signatures for common laptop/tablets and other materials that could be hidden inside a battery or used to identify suspicious modifications to the laptops. This will help identify suspicious materials when hidden inside the electronic equipment.

Support for the project was provided by STFC via the Challenge Led Applied Systems Programme (CLASP), this fund supports the application and commercialisation of STFC research in the key global research challenge areas of energy, environment, healthcare and security.

Halo X-ray Technologies Ltd, a spin out company formed in partnership between NTU and Cranfield University, are looking to utilise the technology to create prototypes with the hope of producing a product that can be taken to market in the near future.

The ACID technology could be used directly in a number of other markets such as screening for fake pharmaceuticals. It also has the potential to be used to screen for bone fracture risk, replacing traditional scans. This is currently being explored by the ACID team and the NHS with funding provided by EPSRC .

The technology was recently recognised by the US Administration by becoming one of eight finalists in the Opioid Detection Challenge, a world wide competition to assess new technologies capable of detecting synthetic opioids trafficked through postal systems. In contrast, the technology platform was successfully employed within an AWE sponsored programme seeking new approaches for nuclear weapon disarmament.

Saving lives by seeing through barriers

Central Laser Facility

It’s a potential game-changer – the technology to ‘see’ inside bottles and bags, regardless of opacity, and instantly identify exactly what they contain.

Thanks to a pioneering breakthrough at STFC’s Central Laser Facility (CLF) at RAL, that technology is now reality – and already in use at over 65 airports worldwide. From detecting dangerous liquids in airline luggage to verifying the quality of pharmaceutical products, the positive impacts extend from industry into the heart of everyday life.

The real-world applications earned the new technology the 2014 Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award, the UK’s most prestigious engineering prize.

Lasers lighting the way

The ‘Raman effect’ makes it possible to determine a substance’s precise chemical composition by striking it with a laser beam and measuring the wavelength of the light scattered by the molecules.

In 2004, STFC researchers, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and Professor Pavel Matousek took this a step further by inventing and patenting a technique thanks to their work at the Central Laser Facility. They now had a way to detect the Raman ‘signatures’ of individual layers beneath the surface of a substance.

Spinning off for success

This breakthrough led to the formation of a STFC spin off company – Cobalt Light Systems. It has since transformed the technology into a new generation of rapid non-invasive analytical and diagnostic devices.

Reducing airport anxiety

The most high profile Cobalt product is making a major impact on air passengers and their safety. The liquids ban on flights since 2006 has led to major disruption and expense. Now, Cobalt’s Insight100 screening machine is helping to reduce the queues and confusion.  Already installed at over 65 EU airports, including Heathrow and Gatwick, this ground-breaking device accurately analyses liquids and gels contained in non-metallic containers without having to open them.

More on the horizon…

The MacDonald Award judges highlighted the promise of “a single innovation that could improve the lives of millions in a variety of ways” in awarded their prize to Cobalt. Potential applications under investigation at STFC extend to non-invasive breast cancer screening, non-invasive bone disease diagnosis, counterfeit goods detection and more – with the promise of new devices and further impacts in the years ahead.

Transforming healthcare through particle physics

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

There are now more than 20,000 MRI scanners worldwide, performing around 50 million examinations every year. Today, MRI is a £111mindustry that saves lives and improves diagnosis. Yet the development of MRI scanners was only made possible by technology created to advance STFC-funded research in particle physics.

The magic of magnets

UK advances in particle physics technology not only supported important experiments at CERN but pioneered early developments in superconducting magnets, which in turn led to the development of MRI scanners.

‘Rutherford Cable’ is a type of superconducting cable that was invented at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory for particle physics applications. Now that technology is used extensively in superconducting magnets and a broad range of other applications, including inside every MRI scanner worldwide.

Treating patients every day

England carries out 2.3 million examinations every year making a huge contribution to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Unlike X-rays, MRI scans do not involve exposing the body to radiation. Therefore they are an important way of monitoring foetal defects in pregnancy as well.

MRI scanners are also used to speed up the diagnosis and recovery of patients suffering from conditions such as dementia and strokes. In addition, they identify damage suffered during heart attacks, and assess damage to cartilage, tendons and ligaments sustained in sports injuries. With so many different applications for MRI, the work on magnets at RAL has truly revolutionised healthcare.

Reporting from the surface of a comet

STFC RAL Space

It was a momentous event and one of the biggest science stories in years. In autumn 2014, the Rosetta probe rendezvoused with Comet 67P/ Churyumov–Gerasimenko.  Within days, its Philae lander touched down on the surface – 405 million kilometres from Earth.

This was the first time humans had ever achieved the feat – opening a new chapter in Solar System exploration after ten years of waiting. Much of the spacecraft was built and designed in the UK – with STFC teams responsible for some of the key mission instrumentation.

Secrets from the Solar System’s dawn

One of the instruments housed within Philae is Ptolemy, an award-winning evolved gas analyser instrument the size of a shoebox. Designed by teams from STFC RAL Space and the Open University, it was built to collect and analyse samples of any organic material on the surface, enabling researchers to investigate the relationship with similar materials from other Solar System bodies.

The results start coming in

Despite the slightly off target landing, Ptolemy was able to collect samples and send data, before the instruments on the lander powered down. They are complex findings to analyse, but researchers have now starting drawing valuable insights. By June 2015, Ptolemy had clocked up 8 billion kilometres in space – and the Philae lander had repowered.

Benefits back on Planet Earth

What do stomach ulcers, vaccinations and bed bugs have in common? They are all health issues now being tackled imaginatively thanks to the ESA Rosetta mission. Small UK enterprises have been taking advantage of the technology, based at the ESA Business Incubation Centre Harwell, which is managed by STFC.

There could be breakthrough in using a breath test for detecting stomach ulcers and a stomach infection linked to cancer. Rosetta insight is developing micro-needles for use in vaccinations, so that significantly less liquid is needed.  It’s also bad news for bed bugs. Technology is being developed to detect and monitor bed bugs in hotel rooms, using many of the same philosophies and lessons learnt during the ESA Rosetta mission.

Using big data to predict bad weather

Hartree Centre at Daresbury (bringing together STFC and IBM)

Torrential rain, overflowing rivers, heavy snowfall – these are just some of the factors that can bring danger and disruption to households, businesses, road users and those relying on public transport.

The team at the Hartree Centre have helped transform the way authorities can forecast and prepare for when the weather is at its worst. KnowNow Information harnessed STFC’s high-calibre data analytics capability to create a unique data resource. It has the potential to revolutionise emergency planning and response.  

Protection from the weather

Responding to traffic accidents, flooding incidents and other emergencies is complex and resource-hungry. Which is why the ability to predict accurately where and when they will occur has huge potential to prevent problems, protect lives and livelihoods, and cut costs.

The smart solution

KnowNow Information is a business that had a great idea. It wanted to combine open data generated by the emergency services, Met Office, and Environment Agency into a single, insightful repository of knowledge that would make predictions easier to generate.  The company won a competition which awarded them the chance to prove their open data concept through access to Hartree Centre analytics hardware, software and expertise.

Mashing up the data

The work of the Hartree team enabled the ‘mash up’ and time-sorting of all the data. It also enabled overlaying of the data onto Ordnance Survey information to pinpoint the location of key infrastructure, buildings and other assets.  The net result was a robust platform of evidence. It could highlight trends and triggers that determine the probability of specific types of emergency occurring in specific places under specific weather conditions.

A bright outlook

Focusing initially on Hampshire, this solution – known as WUDoWUD (Weather You Do or Whether You Don’t) – has clear potential for roll-out nationwide and beyond. As well as informing resource allocation and investment decisions at national and local level, this predictive capability will give emergency services, highways authorities, rail operators, local communities and businesses more time to take proactive measures that negate or minimise the effects of emergencies.

Harnessing supercomputing to map diseases

Hartree Centre at Daresbury

The key to finding a treatment or cure can often be found by understanding the role our genes play in the progression of a disease. The team at the Hartree Centre have helped healthcare company GSK to take a big step forward in identifying connections between different genes and diseases. It’s the application of intense computing expertise to make a real difference to lives.

Networking software

To support their R&D activities, GSK developed specialist software which creates “networks” to visualise the relationships between diseases, biological pathways and genes. This is done by analysing millions of biomedical research publications to identify correlations and the frequency at which they occur.

Looking beyond the limits

An ordinary computer monitor can also only show – and the human brain can only comprehend – a limited part of the network, restricting the view to small portions of data at a time. This means that potentially vital connections can be missed. They would only become apparent if researchers were able to see the bigger picture.

Advancing mapping techniques

GSK brought their project to the Hartree Centre to test new data clustering and visualisation techniques. The Hartree team were able to focus the analysis by targeting a specific, currently incurable disease. They also explored several known drug targets with a potential for application to other diseases. The power of the Hartree Centre’s data analytics and visualisation facilities also allowed GSK to see the network in its entirety – something that had previously been impossible.

The ability to analyse the network as a whole by data objective methods, rather than in parts, has enabled GSK scientists to extract valuable insights and identify subtleties in the connections between the genes and biological pathways.

Seeing the rewards

This breakthrough could eventually aid in the development of new treatments to target these different genes and pathways. Discovering new correlations will provide the case for future drug development work or improved treatments.

Hartree Centre at Daresbury

The key to finding a treatment or cure can often be found by understanding the role our genes play in the progression of a disease. The team at the Hartree Centre have helped healthcare company GSK to take a big step forward in identifying connections between different genes and diseases. It’s the application of intense computing expertise to make a real difference to lives.

Networking software

To support their R&D activities, GSK developed specialist software which creates “networks” to visualise the relationships between diseases, biological pathways and genes. This is done by analysing millions of biomedical research publications to identify correlations and the frequency at which they occur.

Looking beyond the limits

An ordinary computer monitor can also only show – and the human brain can only comprehend – a limited part of the network, restricting the view to small portions of data at a time. This means that potentially vital connections can be missed. They would only become apparent if researchers were able to see the bigger picture.

Advancing mapping techniques

GSK brought their project to the Hartree Centre to test new data clustering and visualisation techniques. The Hartree team were able to focus the analysis by targeting a specific, currently incurable disease. They also explored several known drug targets with a potential for application to other diseases. The power of the Hartree Centre’s data analytics and visualisation facilities also allowed GSK to see the network in its entirety – something that had previously been impossible.

The ability to analyse the network as a whole by data objective methods, rather than in parts, has enabled GSK scientists to extract valuable insights and identify subtleties in the connections between the genes and biological pathways.

Seeing the rewards

This breakthrough could eventually aid in the development of new treatments to target these different genes and pathways. Discovering new correlations will provide the case for future drug development work or improved treatments.

A follow on project is set expand on this approach. It will include new data types and begin to apply the techniques to other diseases – applying new data mining techniques to large open datasets. This has the potential to lead to new treatments for complex chronic conditions of many kinds.

Sharing expertise beyond our borders

STFC Technology

Microelectronics feeds into the success of a virtually every industry sector. The global industry is worth £500 billion, representing 1% of the world’s total GDP.

So, it might surprise that most of the microelectronics engineers graduating in Europe over the last 25 years have been trained on STFC’s supplied and supported design tools.At home, STFC is providing the design infrastructure for the £23bn UK microelectronics sector, underpinning several other strategically important industries to the UK economy.

h3>Microelectronics at work  

Microelectronics is vital to the health and competitiveness of our aerospace, automotive, consumer technology and defence industries. Together they account for £78bnof UK GDP and employ around 850,000 people. The increasing shift to a UK knowledge based economy will boost the demand for highly skilled microelectronics design engineers who are already in short supply.

Supporting the sector

STFC’s Microelectronics Support Centre partners with 20 of the world’s leading microelectronics system designers and 11 leading design institutes. It provides over 650 Universities and Research Institutes across Europe, including 80 in the UK, with world-leading microelectronics design tools.

Funding research

Our work in microelectronics has generated revenue more than £75m for STFC over the last 25 years, with over 85% coming from outside the UK. These resources have proved invaluable in funding further research and activities in microelectronics and many other fields.

Nurturing engineers careers

STFC and its partners provide hands-on practical training courses which move around Europe, enabling the university trainers and researchers to get the most out of the software. More than 250,000 students and academics have directly benefitted. That’s a lot of engineers.

Movies, games and more – giving the world CGI

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Years before Mario or PacMan or even Pong were conceived, a team at RAL started a revolution in animation. Their work sparked the creation of Computer Generated Imagery technology – changing the face of movie production and making computer gaming a reality. As such a longstanding champion of computer graphics and animation in the UK, we’re proud to continue contributing to a UK industry worth billions.

A 1960’s revolution

Back in the 1960s, employees at RAL began developing computer techniques to help researchers and engineers visualise scientific data as images or animated films.  The researchers realised these ground-breaking computer graphics and animation technologies had wider application and encouraged adoption through knowledge exchange with partners and industry.

CGI through the 70’s

In the late 1960s and 1970s this innovative CGI work caused the Financial Times to pronounce the Laboratory as the home of computer animation in Britain. At that time, RAL featured in a BBC Tomorrow’s World episode about the potential of computer animation.

Oscars and Aliens

STFC continued to lead UK CGI development, most notably by creating the computer imagery for Ridley Scott’s first ‘Alien’ movie. Its (sometimes terrifying) realism helped the film win an Oscar in 1980 for best Special Effects. The success of ‘Aliens’ spawned a whole sector, with many new companies commercialising the CGI concepts and code developed by STFC and introducing them to new markets.

CGI today

At the time, the early pioneers of the 60’s would have had no idea just how big CGI would become. The UK computer animation industry now has revenues of £300 million. It also directly supports other UK industries, including the post-production industry worth £1.4 billion and the gaming sector worth £1 billion. Worldwide the digital animation industry is worth a staggering £120 billion today.

In addition, the graphics industries today are underpinned by international computer graphic standards developed at RAL.

Creating a new way to counter cleft palates

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ISIS Neutron and Muon Source

Medicine is a field in which STFC is helping to make a very human impact.

When researchers wanted to develop a new material to improve the treatment of cleft palates, they turned to the team at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source for help. The success of that research has created a new way to speed up healing times and reduce operating costs.

The human cost of cleft palates

One in every 700 babies in Britain are born with cleft lip or palate issues – that’s around a 1000 every year, making it the most common craniofacial birth defect. Babies with cleft palates usually have problems feeding, and may have speech difficulties in later life, as well as issues with their hearing, dentition and facial growth.

Current treatment

In severe cases radical surgery is required, often taking up to ten expensive operations to correct the problem. Cleft palates are currently repaired by surgically repositioning the tissue on the roof of the mouth to cover the gap in the palate. However, if the cleft is too wide there may be insufficient local tissue available to close the gap without undertaking radical surgery.

Finding a new way

A team of researchers at the University of Oxford, the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxfordshire, and the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States began investigating novel hydrogel tissue expanders to improve the treatment of many disorders including craniofacial conditions; limb deformities, scar reconstruction and in restorative dentistry.

STFC’s vital role

The researchers used STFC’s ISIS facility at RAL to characterise the hydrogel at the molecular level. This fundamental breakthrough meant the technology could then be commercially exploited by OXTEX, who were formed in 2011 as an Oxford University spin-out.

A brighter future for babies

The new product reduces the risk of soft tissue damage, making them ideal for use in delicate anatomical locations, and particularly in the treatment of children. Clinicians should be able to treat more cases, at a lower cost, and with better results.