Open Days


On Saturday 11 July 2015, the Harwell campus opened its doors to the public. This unique event enabled visitors to access all areas and learn about the UK’s involvement in space explorations, exciting experiments with powerful X-rays and neutrons, supercomputing and much more.

Overall, a staggering 16,000 visitors came to the Science up Close event on the Saturday alone. 

RAL Space – Earth observation, space weather and the furthest reaches of our Universe

RAL Space has been involved with over 200 space missions, designing, testing and building the satellites and telescopes that observe our Earth and explore the earliest and most distant parts of our universe. This was the first chance for the public to explore our new National Space Development and Test Facility, which included clean rooms, a vibration test facility and the UK's largest vacuum chambers used to ensure that the equipment we send into space will be able to do the work it was designed to do. There were infra-red cameras, a weather balloon, a chance to build, test and launch your own rockets, meteorites and moonrocks, planet painting and much more.

Brighter than the Sun – explore the Diamond Light Source

The Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron facility, which uses a particle accelerator to generate powerful X-rays to study everything from solar cells to visualising cellular metabolism. In addition to walking through the Diamond facility itself there was a chance to talk to the scientists and engineers who use Diamond. There was a dinosaur skeleton to help explain how Diamond is helping us to understand how dinosaurs lived, healed and looked, a model volcano and a series of films and animations to explain Diamond and the work done on site.


The incredible power of light: RAL’s Central Laser Facility

RAL’s Central Laser Facility is home to some of the most advanced and powerful lasers in the world. We study the way matter behaves under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure – from astrophysics in the lab to nuclear fusion. We also use the very latest imaging and spectroscopy techniques to study biological and other samples, allowing anything from single molecules to whole tissues to be imaged and studied. As well as exploring the laser facilities themselves, there were plenty of hands-on activities – measuring the speed of light, watching how plasma moves and behaves, clearing up ‘space debris’ using a laser to name just a few.

Probing the structure of matter: the ISIS neutron and muon source

ISIS accelerates protons to 84% of the speed of light in order to create neutrons, which are used as a ‘super-microscope’ to study the atomic structure of different materials – from ancient samurai swords to nanoparticles being used in the fight against cancer. ISIS is a world-leading centre of research into the physical and life sciences, and the scientists and engineers who work here were on hand to explain their research. As well as exploring the inspiring experimental hall, there was an exciting liquid nitrogen show and hands-on activities and demonstrations.

The building blocks of the universe: particle physics and accelerators

Our Particle Physics and Accelerator Science Departments works with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and other experiments around the world to understand the building blocks of our world. With the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, and the restart of the LHC in 2015, this is a very exciting time for particle physics. We can’t take you to CERN, but we brought CERN to the lab with a series of live link-ups to the control rooms. There was a chance to hold and examine parts of the detectors we develop and use, and to learn more about how we accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light – as well as the other uses we’re now putting these state-of-the-art machines to.

Stargazing in cells: multidisciplinary work at the Research Complex at Harwell

The Research Complex at Harwell is a new, multidisciplinary laboratory that provides facilities for researchers to undertake new and cutting edge scientific research in both life and physical sciences and the interface between them. Scientists use a wide variety of techniques – from X-ray crystallography to transmission electron microscopy to further our understanding of the world around us. As well as visiting the labs themselves, there was a variety of activities and demonstrations about a range of topics – including biofuels, self-healing materials, grey water recycling and a model of a scanning tunnelling microscope.

Supercomputers: From Quarks to Climate Change

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is home to some of the UK’s most powerful supercomputers, and the Open Day at Harwell gave visitors a chance to see these incredible facilities for themselves. Computing affects all areas our lives, and is absolutely vital to the advancement of science and technology – not to mention the economy! The Scientific Computing Department at RAL develops and runs state-of-the-art climate and weather modelling, as well as storing, distributing and analysing data from the Large Hadron Collider and creating new computer programs to help us understand and visualise the results from our experiments across site. There was also a chance for all ages to create their own computer programs to control circuits and robots.

Engineering our future: from 1000m underground to the furthest reaches of the solar system

The engineers in our Technology department work with all the facilities on site, as well as our partners around the world, building equipment that is now in space or deep underground in the Boulby Laboratory. This was your chance to explore our workshops and laboratories, from our 3D printing technology, to the Cryogenics facilities, to Metrology, where we use a suite of state-of-the-art equipment for the detailed measurements and analysis needed to solve today’s engineering problems. There was plenty to do for our younger visitors too, with hands-on engineering activities like measuring the tensile strength of biscuits, and high-speed cameras to enable us to see the world in a different way.