Advanced Materials Spotlight

The Materials Research Facility (MRF) is due to open its doors at Culham Science Centre in December 2015 with plans already in progress to expand the new building.


Capturing the attention of companies such as Rolls Royce, AMEC and EDF Energy, universities from Oxford, Bristol, Sheffield, Manchester and London, and organisations including EUROfusion and the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), MRF is a powerful asset for Culham’s continued development.


The new facility is part of the National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF), a government initiative bringing together three key organisations involved in materials R&D – Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE), the NNL and The University of Manchester (UoM).   The initiative enables all three facilities to host materials research with varying levels of radiation damage.


In advance of MRF’s opening, NNL has recently relocated its Materials, Chemistry and Modelling team from Harwell to Culham Science Centre to work more closely with scientists from CCFE, ideal timing to maximise synergies between the two organisations on MRF and other research.


Dr. Fiona Rayment, Director of Fuel Cycle Solutions, NNL explains:

“This is the start of an exciting journey bringing two internationally recognised and government endorsed laboratories together with the aim of sharing knowledge for the advancement of fusion and fission.”

“The MRF will bridge the gap between the university or industrial laboratory and our own NNL facilities.  For instance, work can be carried out on materials that have been subjected to high levels of radiation damage at our Sellafield site in Cumbria, whereas other materials can be examined at the MRF at Culham Science Centre.”


The 2,200 sq. m. MRF building, costing a total of £9 million (£5 million from NNUF and the remainder from other UKAEA funds) will contain one receipt cell and three hot cells with room for more.  The facility can accommodate up to eight instruments enabling the processing of active material and the ability to analyse the effect of neutron irradiation on advanced materials either on site or at industrial or university labs.


Martin O’Brien, project sponsor for the MRF, UKAEA, explains:

“The MRF will benefit of from our long-standing nuclear expertise, and be able to take material up to an inventory of 4 TBq on a non-licensed site.”


Some of MRF’s equipment has already been purchased including a Dual beam Focussed Ion Beam, Nanoindenter and a Scanning Electron Microscope with EDS and EBSD Detectors, currently operational on the ground floor of D3 building.


Martin continues:

“The new equipment has been a great asset for various external and internal projects involving several universities, JET and MAST, and two Culham Science Centre companies, Reaction Engines and Isis Instruments. The MRF will enable it to be used on much more radioactive samples.”


Martin and his UKAEA colleagues recently hosted a workshop to explain the benefits of MRF in addition to sounding out ideas about additional equipment that will be bought with future investment to ensure a joined-up way of thinking between industry (including SMEs) and academic needs.


He explains:

“We know from our workshop with key industry players, universities and institutes, that demand is high for the use of MRF, which is why we are already putting together a bid for more funding to extend the building and more than double the scientific equipment and other facilities over the next four years.”


UKAEA is developing a proposal to try and access some of the £60million of funding awarded to NNUF by the Government for more nuclear research equipment, available to spend from 2017.


In addition, NNL is currently liaising with UKAEA, Oxford University Materials Department and other European organisations, to apply for a research grant from Europe’s Horizon 2020 programme to develop nanostructured steels for extreme environments. The consortium has already passed the first hurdle and is now creating a detailed proposal which if successful will secure in excess of €5 million.


Commenting on the future of MRF and working more closely with NNL, Martin concludes:

“The NNL team is a great addition to the Culham community and co-location will help to strengthen our existing relationship.  They have fantastic materials scientists and chemists who will add expertise to our own, working with us on MRF and other projects.  We are all looking forward to an exciting future working together.”