Central Laser Facility

Central Laser Facility
Rapid access to high-performance microscopy facilities enables scientists to better understand the COVID-19 virus
Central Laser Facility equipment

The Central Laser Facility (CLF), based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, represents one of the world’s leading laser research facilities.

As part of the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), the CLF contains five state-of-the-art laser facilities (and one under construction) for academic and industry users that have applications across a broad range of fields, including experiments in physics, chemistry and biology. This includes:

  • Artemis – A pulsed extreme ultraviolet system that enables the electronic structure of a material to be monitored as it responds to excitation by a laser pulse, for research into advanced materials and fundamental processes, such as novel superconductors and graphene.
  • Gemini – A high power, ultra-short pulse laser system delivering discovery, innovation, and applications in plasma physics, including novel plasma-based accelerator concepts for advanced light sources, and quantum physics experiments.
  • OCTOPUS (Optics Clustered to OutPut Unique Solutions) – A suite of advanced laser-based imaging and laser trapping capabilities, including super-resolution microscopy (including at cryogenic temperature), multidimensional single molecule imaging and tracking, confocal microscopy, light microscopy, and focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy for life, environmental, and materials sciences.
  • ULTRA – A combination of laser-based advanced spectroscopy techniques that probe molecular dynamics on the femtosecond to microsecond timescales, such as DNA and protein folding, catalysis, battery science, and fundamental chemical reactions in life and physical sciences.
  • Vulcan – A high power laser system used to research high energy density science and materials in extreme conditions of temperature and pressure, such as shock physics, equations of state, laboratory astrophysics, and fusion energy.
  • EPAC (Extreme Photonics Applications Centre, online 2024) – A state-of-the-art 10 Hz high power laser, built using CLF’s proprietary technology, for the provision of x-ray and particle beams from plasma accelerators with applications such as industrial imaging, security technologies innovation, and fundamental discovery research in extreme state physics.

Of these, the OCTOPUS facility has been heavily involved in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through providing the research community with rapid access to essential tools to study SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. This includes access to advanced microscopy techniques such as super resolution imaging, single molecule tracking, light sheet and cryogenic-electron microscopy.

These techniques have been used to study how the SARS-CoV-2 virus infects and interacts with living cells. They have also enabled scientists to study the interactions between the virus and possible drug candidates, providing valuable information to support the drug discovery process.

Such experiments provide scientists with a greater understanding of the virus, helping to support the identification and assessment of treatments that could be used to tackle COVID-19.

Further information can be found at https://stfc.ukri.org/news/covid-19-rapid-call-access-to-clfs-octopus-facility/