Physics “ultra-clean” labs to be built


In the autumn of this year Lancaster University will be the site of a new £2 million research complex that will “provide a world-beating environment for modern quantum technology” according to Lancaster University Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith.

This facility is the IsoLab, the latest addition to the Lancaster Quantum Technology Centre (QTC) based in the Physics department which will contain three isolated laboratory spaces. To separate this from the surrounding environment and other buildings, the three 50-tonne “bunkers” are to be embedded in the ground.

These spaces will be isolated by significantly reducing the vibrations, noise and electromagnetic disturbance to produce an “ultra-clean” experimental environment. This makes the space well-suited for extremely sensitive quantum systems and devices by lining the inner surfaces of the “bunkers” with electrical shielding.

Planned research which it is believed will be performed at the Isolab will include quantum optics, nano-machinery, quantum encryption, extreme microscopy and will also provide the lowest temperatures available for cooling quantum systems.

The project leader for this complex is Dr Richard Haley, the Head of Low Temperature Group and Reader in Low Temperature Physics. Dr Haley currently works at the coldest place in the known universe where a temperature as low as 0.001 Kelvin (nearly -273°C) can be reached in the ultra-low temperature laboratory. This is what he had to say about the Isolab:

“The new IsoLab facility is important for supporting the next generation of quantum engineers who are developing radically new technologies that harness the power of quantum mechanics.”

“While these systems can make extremely sensitive devices, this also means that they can be very delicate. Several groups in the Physics Department have years of experience in isolating and protecting different types of measurement systems from external noise and disturbance. IsoLab brings all this expertise together under one roof.”

“When complete, the facility will provide the university with three world-leading ultra-low noise laboratories. The advanced instrumentation and measurement capabilities will be open to Lancaster staff and students, and to external academic and industrial research partners.”

The funding for this £2m project has come from the University itself, along with a considerable contribution from the Wolfson Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the J.P. Moulton Foundation. This has been collected alongside around £1m which has been awarded to the project by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and will be used towards the first set of equipment to be used in the laboratory spaces.

The designs for the IsoLab facility have been completed by ADP, a 51-year-old architectural firm who have also designed the ‘Life Sciences and Environmental Laboratories’ and the Physics Department building for the Lancaster University campus.

Construction is being completed by Lancashire-based company Eric Wright Construction Limited, who have also built the four-storey Engineering Building, along with the refurbishments to the Chemistry and Physics Building.

The building site is contained at the current Physics site, along with dedicated pedestrian walkways being provided around the site boundary. Pedestrians walking around these walkways may need to wait for short periods of time for their own safety due to increased traffic in this area caused by manoeuvring large vehicles going in between the site compound on Physics Avenue.

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