Open Days


On Wednesday 8 July 2015, the Harwell Campus opened its doors to schools, allowing unprecedented access to some of the UK’s largest science and engineering facilities.  This is a unique opportunity to expose students to the excitement of cutting-edge science, inspiring them to pursue STEM subjects.


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

Target age: Key Stage 3

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. These sessions, for Key Stage 3, will give students an idea of what life as an engineer is like. Students will be given a tour of some of our facilities, seeing the cryogenics labs and 3D printers, and take part in a number of hands-on activities including a bullet-time camera.

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

Target age: Key Stage 4 & 5

ISIS accelerates protons to 84% of the speed of light in order to create neutrons, which are used to study the atomic structure of different materials – from ancient samurai swords to nanoparticles being used in the fight against cancer. As well as a tour of the inspiring experimental hall, there will be a liquid nitrogen show and hands-on polymer and crystallography workshops.

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

Target age: Key Stage 3

This session gave Key Stage 3 students the chance to visit some of the world’s most powerful lasers, learning how they work and why we use them – from building stars to imaging bones. As well as touring the laser facilities, there will also be a series of hands-on activities and demonstrations, including a Jacob’s ladder and bursting balloons with lasers, our Incredible Power of Light roadshow, and an interactive workshop with Danceroom Spectroscopy.

Brighter than the Sun – explore the Diamond Light Source

Target age: Key Stage 4

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 a tour of the Diamond facility there will be a chance for students to take part in a hands-on activity as well as meet the scientists who use Diamond and learn about their work.

NOTE: For health and safety reasons, we must have one adult for every six students at the Diamond session.

How do we explore space?

Target age: Key Stage 2

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 furthest reaches of our universe. This session, for Year 5 and 6, will inspire the children with the excitement of space, including rocket making and launching, an infra-red astronomy show, experimenting with our robots, building and testing satellites for space and experiencing a clean room environment. These workshops will take place in the new RAL Space National Space Development and Test Facility.

The Moon and the Sun

Target age: Key Stage 2

This session, for Years 5 and 6, includes a visit to our satellite dish, which was a gift from NASA and was used for the Apollo moon missions, as well as a chance to handle meteorites and to see the lunar samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts. Children made comets and participated in a sundome workshop, run by our partners the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy.

Satellites and computing

Target age: Key Stage 3

STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is home to some of the UK’s most powerful supercomputers, and the Open Day at Harwell gave students a chance to see these incredible facilities for themselves. They visited the visualisation suite run by our on-site partners the Satellite Applications Catapult, learning how we use computers and programming to track and control the satellites above us. Students also had the chance to experiment with and program arduinos in a hands-on workshop.

Stargazing in cells: multidisciplinary work at the research complex at Harwell

Target age: Key Stage 5

The Research Complex at Harwell is a multi-disciplinary laboratory in both the physical and life sciences. Students toured the laboratories and laser facilities, used for studying such diverse fields as alternative energy sources and structural analysis of bacteria. In addition, we ran a series of hands-on activities including extracting and amplifying DNA from strawberries.

Particle physics and accelerator masterclass

Target age: Key Stage 5

During the particle physics sessions, students took part in computer exercises using data from the Large Hadron Collider and went on tours of our MICE facility. MICE – the Muon Ionisation Cooling Experiment – is an experimental particle accelerator being developed with an international team at RAL. They also had the chance to explore our LHC roadshow, and learn more about accelerator science and technology with a series of cryogenic and vacuum demonstrations.