Harwell History


Harwell Campus stands on the site of part of the Icknield Way highway, first mentioned in Anglo-Saxon literature in the year 903, and one of the four reinforced medieval highways protected by the Leges Edwardi Confessoris. The route has been used for trade since pre-Roman times.



1937  RAF Harwell built to accommodate various bomber squadrons on the eve of, and during, Second World War



1945  First Medical Research Council labs opened on Harwell Campus

1946  Ministry of Supply takes over the site and establishes Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE)

1947  Europe's first 'nuclear reactor' GLEEP was commissioned at Harwell

1947  Medical Research Council (MRC) set up its Radiobiology Unit (Harwell's first tenant)



1953  World's first transistorised computer (CADET) assembled by Harwell's Electronics Division

1954  The world's first experimental 'fast' reactor, ZEPHYR, built

1957  Rutherford Laboratory (now Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) established to handle high energy physics work



1961  Dr Mary Lyon (MRC) discovered X Chromosome Inactivation, which led to greater understanding of diseases such as haemophilia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, fragile X syndrome and certain cancers

1963  Work by MRC Harwell Radiobiology Research Unit (RBU) led to ban on atmospheric testing of atomic weapons

1965  Science & Technology Act allowed Dr Walter Marshall (Harwell Director 1968-75) to take on R&D for external clients



1975  Frozen Embryo and Sperm Archive (FESA) first established by researchers at MRC Harwell, becomes sole public UK archiving and distribution centre for mouse strains 



 1985  Researchers from MRC discovered genetic imprinting in mice

1985  Harwell earned over £50M p.a. from 1200 R&D contracts

1987  Harwell carried out numerical simulations of the flow and temperature distribution of the King’s Cross Underground Fire, using the HARWELL-FLOW 3D model software  



1992  Harwell computer scientists discovered the world's largest Prime Number

1996  Planning approval for 28,000 sq m business development secured



2000  Harwell Innovation Centre opened with support from the UK Atomic Energy Authority, becoming centre of the civil nuclear program

2002  Diamond Light Source Ltd established and prepared to run the Diamond Light Sychontron under construction at Harwell

2004  RAL Space engineered PTOLEMY instrument for the PHILAE LANDER on ESA's Rosetta expedition to rendezvous with a comet

2005  STFC's ISIS's first impact as it helped researchers develop glass that could replace bone transplants

2006  Lord Sainsbury, (then the Science and Innovation Minister), announced a £26.4m Government investment would fund construction of new Research Complex at Harwell (RCaH)

2006  MRC Harwell and Health Protection Agency (now PHE), discovered high levels of Polonium-210 in Alexander Litvinenko's body

2007  The CCLRC merged with PPARC and incorporated nuclear physics discipline from EPSRC to create Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which took control of RAL

2007  The £260m Diamond Light Synchrotron produced its first user beam and was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II later that year

2008  New family of high-temperature superconductors discovered by STFC's ISIS



2010  MRC Harwell discovered that FTO gene leads to obesity

2012  Student won International Prize for proving that non-invasive biopsy technique (discovered at  STFC's CLF) is viable for diagnosing breast cancer

2012  Diamond Light Synchotron allowed British researchers to engineer new synthetic foot-and-mouth vaccine, which doesn't rely on using a live virus

2013  University of Oxford and Harwell formalize a Partnership, for discovery and innovation (Further information)

2013  The total active Laser Labs at Harwell's Central Laser Facility (CLF) reached five:  Vulcan, Astra Gemini, Artemis, ULTRA and OCTOPUS

2013  Inauguration of ESA’s first UK facility: The European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT)

2013  Satellite Applications Catapult established by Innovate UK

2014  For the first time in history, ESA's Rosetta mission succeeded in rendezvousing with a comet and landed Philae probe on the surface