harwell history header - History

The History

From the opening of the first Medical Research Council laboratory in 1945 to the opening of the Diamond Light Source Synchrotron in 2007 and the launch of the HealthTec Cluster in 2016, Harwell is rich in world-firsts and proud of its direct role in scientific leaps forward.


1945 RAF hands over site to Ministry of Supply

1946 The Atomic Energy Research Establishment is founded

1947 GLEEP test reactor generates nuclear energy for first time in Europe

1947 Harwell’s first tenant, Medical Research Council (MRC), sets up its Radiobiology Unit

history 1940 - History
history 1950 - History

1953 Harwell’s Electronics Division assemble CADET, the world’s first transistorised computer

1954 The world’s first experimental ‘fast’ reactor, ZEPHYR, is housed at Harwell

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


1961 Dr Mary Lyon, working with the MRC, discovers X chromosome inactivation

1963 Work by the MRC Harwell Radiobiology Research Unit leads to ban on the atmospheric testing of atomic weapons

history 1960 - History
history 1970 - History

1975 Frozen Embryo and Sperm Archive is established by researchers at MRC

1973 Dr Martin Wilson and team start manufacturing ‘Rutherford Cable’, now world famous and a fundamental component inside Large Hadron Collider at CERN


1985 MRC researchers discover 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

history 1980 - History
history 1990 - History

1990 Major nuclear research projects finish at Harwell

1992 Computer scientists at Harwell discover the world’s largest prime number


2000 Harwell Innovation Centre opens with support from the UK Atomic Energy Authority

2004 RAL Space engineers the Ptolemy instrument for the Philae lander on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta expedition

2005 ISIS Neutron Source conducts the first experiment to develop glass to replace bone transplants

2006 Science and Innovation Minister Lord Sainsbury announces £26 million Government investment in construction of a new Research Complex at Harwell (RCaH)

2007 Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is founded, taking control of RAL

2007 The £260 million Diamond Light Source Synchrotron produces its first user beam and is officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II

2008 ISIS Neutron Source discover a new family of high temperature superconductors

history 2000 - History


history 2010 - History


2010 MRC researchers discover that the FTO gene leads to obesity

2012 Diamond Light Source Synchrotron allows British researchers to engineer new synthetic foot-and-mouth vaccine without relying on the use of a live virus

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

2013 The Satellite Applications Catapult is established by Innovate UK

2014 ESA’s Rosetta mission is first to rendezvous with a comet and lands Philae probe on its surface

2017 Government Business Secretary, Greg Clarke announces £100m investment into the Rosalind Franklin Institute.

2018 The Faraday Institution is headquartered at Harwell, with £65m backing for research into developing and scaling up new battery technology, from the government’s recently announced £246m Faraday Challenge Fund.