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Our history

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About us

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Orion laser facility

Orion is one of the most powerful lasers and largest laser facilities in the UK.

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A unique national asset

We have unique nuclear expertise. We have a clear purpose and goals that set our direction.

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World-class expertise

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Materials science

Materials science supports the life cycle of warhead components and technologies to ensure reliability of the UK's strategic deterrent.

A nuclear warhead contains a vast range of materials including metals, ceramics, inorganic salts, rubbers, foams, adhesives, high explosives and radioactive substances. Many of these materials have unique handling issues and our dedicated facilities ensure a safe and secure environment to undertake research. As part of our obligations to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, materials science is critical to understanding and predicting behaviour of these types of materials under various conditions.

Key areas of focus for materials science are:

  • High explosives research and analysis 
  • Plutonium and uranium chemistry and metallurgy
  • Non-metallic materials (organic and inorganic)
  • Chemical analysis including radiochemistry, mass spectrometry and spectroscopy
  • Actinides chemistry 

Materials science is also concerned with research and development across all areas of warhead systems and components including:

  • In-service surveillance
  • Production
  • Life prediction
  • Capability maintenance 

Many research areas are explored to support understanding of the warhead and include topics such as:

  • Affect on materials through age
  • Development and operation of unique analytical capabilities
  • Fundamental research and modelling
  • Replacement and novel materials
  • Component performance 

Materials science places great importance on fostering links with external organisations, and collaborations are in place with both industrial and academic institutions around the world. Established links exist with a number of UK universities through sponsorship of PhD and postdoctoral research. These contracts provide invaluable support to our technical programme and allow discussion between our scientists and distinguished academics in a variety of disciplines.