Cross Cutting Imaging

Microscopy has been a major theme in RCaH from the start. This area has largely been driven by the Central Laser Facility, with its Octopus facility developing and operating microscopy facilities for the research community.

Octopus is probably the largest suite of microscopy instrumentation in the UK, offering a wide range of fluorescence-based microscopy techniques for the research community. Over the last ten years, developments have focused on single molecule microscopy, ‘super-resolution’ microscopy, and correlative microscopy. The use of correlative microscopy is undergoing explosive growth, and RCaH is well placed to lead developments.

There is a constant exchange of ideas, methodology, and applications between the life and physical sciences. For example, astronomy methods are used to analyse single molecule data from cells and to improve the resolution of optical microscopes, and super-resolution techniques originally developed for the life sciences are now used to characterise designer materials and catalysts.


Artemis investigates ultrafast electron dynamics in condensed matter and gas-phase molecules, and for coherent lensless imaging.

Principal Investigator: Emma Springate

Artemis investigates ultrafast electron dynamics in condensed matter and gas-phase molecules, and for coherent lensless imaging.

Artemis is based on high repetition rate, few optical cycles and widely tuneable laser sources, and ultrafast XUV (10-100 eV) pulses produced through high harmonic generation. We exploit the femtosecond time-resolution afforded by harmonics to use them as ultrafast probes of electron dynamics. Our key technique is time-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy with XUV high harmonic probe pulses and we have three dedicated end-stations for gas- and solid-phase experiments. We also exploit the spatial coherence of the XUV to use coherent diffractive imaging techniques.

Artemis will move across the campus to RCaH in late 2018 as part of a major upgrade funded by STFC and BEIS. The upgrade adds a new laser system (a joint purchase with Ultra) and a new XUV beamline. The new laser will use OPCPA technology to provide mid-infrared pulses at 100 kHz repetition rate.

For Artemis, the mid-infrared will enable the generation of higher photon energy XUV pulses and the higher repetition rate allows smaller samples to be studied. For Ultra, the appeal is the ability to provide broader spectral coverage at high repetition rates, for faster data acquisition, and more efficient generation of mid- to far-IR pulses.

Central Laser Facility

The CLF is the UK’s national laser facility and offers access to advanced laser technologies. Two facilities, ULTRA and Octopus, are housed at RCaH.

Principal Investigator: Dr David Clarke

The CLF is the UK’s national laser facility and offers access to advanced laser technologies ranging from extremely high power lasers for investigating matter under extreme conditions, to spectroscopy and imaging facilities for life sciences, chemistry and materials research. RCaH houses two of the CLF’s facilities, ULTRA and Octopus. Both facilities are operated by STFC and have received considerable investment from BBSRC and MRC. Access to the facilities for UK academics is free at the point of use, via a peer-reviewed proposal mechanism. Various routes are available for access by industrial users.

ULTRA combines laser, detector and sample manipulation technology to study molecular dynamics to address scientific problems in the physical and life sciences. A range of ultrafast light sources provides unprecedented flexibility to combine multiple beams, multiple colours (UV to mid-IR), mixed timing patterns (fs-µs) and pulse length. ULTRA is one of the world’s most sensitive time-resolved spectrometers and is used to investigate dynamics of complex biological systems such as proteins. ​

Octopus is an advanced imaging facility containing a mixture of in-house-built and commercial systems, offering a range of imaging techniques. These include several modes of multidimensional single molecule microscopy, and structure determination in fixed cells, at ~5nm resolution via fluorescence localisation with photobleaching (FLimP)). Other techniques include super-resolution microscopy (STORM, PALM, SIM, STED), confocal microscopy (FLIM, FRET, and multiphoton), and light sheet microscopy.

ULTRA and Octopus will soon be joined in RCaH by Artemis, the CLF’s facility for ultrafast XUV science. Experiments on Artemis use high harmonics to investigate ultra-fast electron dynamics in condensed matter and gas-phase molecules, and for coherent lensless imaging.

Harwell XPS EPSRC National Facility for X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy

We offer access to state-of-the-art spectrometers for photoelectron spectroscopy in our main laboratory based at RCaH.

Principal Investigator: Professor Philip Davies

We offer access to state-of-the-art spectrometers for photoelectron spectroscopy in our main laboratory based at RCaH. Together with our partner hubs offering specialist analysis at Cardiff University, UCL and the University of Manchester, the Harwell XPS service provides access to a wider range of XPS analysis methods than previously available to UK academia and industry, including:

  • XPS and UPS
  • angle resolved XPS (ARXPS)
  • XPS imaging
  • ion scattering spectroscopy (ISS/LEIS)
  • cluster and monotomic ion depth profiling
  • high energy XPS and near ambient pressure (NAP) XPS
  • high temperature and pressure treatments.


Our research focuses on developing advanced Raman spectroscopy ‘through-barrier’ methods for non-invasive probing of turbid media.

Principal Investigator: Professor Pavel Matousek

Research focuses on the development of advanced Raman spectroscopy ‘through-barrier’ methods for non-invasive disease diagnosis (e.g. breast cancer and bone disease diagnosis), security screening (airport security, detection of hazardous materials), cultural heritage (intact analysis of painted layers) and pharmaceutical analysis (quality control) and the development of advanced nano-photonic concepts for personalised, single-session cancer diagnosis and treatment.

A number of approaches used are based around spatially offset Raman spectroscopy (SORS), a patented concept originating from research on the CLF-RCaH ULTRA facility. These activities are carried out with numerous external partners including Exeter University (Professor Nicholas Stone), UCL (Professor Allen Goodship), STFC (Professor Tony Parker) and CNR-ICVBC in Milan (Dr Claudia Conti).

The research also has a strong commercial component: for example, with the co-founding in 2008 of Cobalt Light Systems Ltd. Cobalt developed commercial SORS scanners that are deployed at more than 75 airports to scan liquids in bottles (e.g. baby milk, medicine) and 30 pharmaceutical companies worldwide in quality control, inspecting finished products and incoming raw materials by intact means. In 2017, Cobalt was acquired by Agilent for £40 million, forming in Oxford its global centre for Raman spectroscopy.

Pavel is an Honorary Professor at University College London and an STFC Senior Fellow (main role) and his research is conducted within LSF-CLF unit at RCaH. His main research funders include STFC and EPSRC.

Materials Design & Manufacturing

Our research focuses on the X-ray imaging and computational simulation of materials at a microstructural level.

Principal Investigator: Professor Peter Lee

Our research focuses on the X-ray imaging and computational simulation of materials at a microstructural level. We have pioneered the development of in situ and operando techniques, enabling the design of new materials for processes ranging from fabricating aeroengine components to additive manufacturing to ice cream. We have also pioneering multiscale and through-process modelling (Integrated Computational Materials Engineering, ICME) as applied to these processes, working with companies including Rolls-Royce, Ford and Unilever.

The group makes the most of being based in RCaH. We focus on developing nano-precision rigs that simulate the processing of materials on a synchrotron beamline, enabling us to see inside materials in 3D as they change in time (4D imaging). Our work is revealing how microstructures evolve in aerospace and automotive materials, as well as biological and geological systems. Our results and open-source codes (including uMatIC, which simulates three-phase flow to predict solidification microstructures) have been exploited internationally by aerospace, automotive, energy and biomedical companies to solve important engineering challenges – from developing additive manufactured human joint replacements to producing light-alloy automotive components.

Our group frequently acts as a hub for other academics and industrialists to perform feasibility studies at Harwell Campus to initiate new academic and industrial studies using the large facilities here (e.g. Diamond Light Source, ISIS Neutron Source, the Central Laser Facilities). We have more than 12 active projects, including:

Oxford MBE Group @ Harwell

Our group focuses on the growth of quantum materials in the form of thin films and of nanostructures using molecular beam epitaxy, UHV sputtering and CVD.

Principal Investigator: Professor Thorsten Hesjedal

The Oxford MBE Group @ Harwell focuses on the growth of ferromagnets, topological insulators and magnetic insulators through molecular beam epitaxy (MBE), sputtering and chemical vapour deposition (CVD). Topological insulators are a cutting-edge class of materials where only the surface states are conducting, but perfectly so, and have transformative potential for the electronics industry. We seek to probe the resilience and character of this topological state through high-precision growth techniques that allow us to minutely tune properties, such as through doping with ferromagnetic ions, bilayering or cleaving.

MBE, our main deposition technique, allows for growth of high-quality single-crystal films by deposition onto a substrate material of molecular beams produced from ultra-high purity elemental sources. MBE growth, a stalwart of the semiconductor industry, is used by our group to grow thin films of Bi2Se3 and Bi2Te3 and related compounds. These films are then used in a wide range of experiments with our collaborators at ISIS and Diamond as well as further afield to try and probe the fundamental nature of the topological surface state.

Our characterisation methods include X-ray diffraction and reflectometry, muon spin rotation, resonant elastic X-ray scattering, X-ray spectroscopy, polarised neutron reflectometry, neutron diffraction, ferromagnetic resonance and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy. Our fortunate position near world-leading facilities gives us access to a diverse community of scientific knowledge as well as second-to-none experiments through which we study our samples and push at the boundaries of our current understanding.