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University to lead £125M world-first diffraction and imaging electron microscopy facility to drive UK science breakthroughs

The University of Liverpool will lead a new £125 million national research facility to drive forward scientific discoveries and technological advances in areas such as sustainable energy, advanced materials, quantum technologies, and personalised medicine.

Supported by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Infrastructure Fund, the facility known as RUEDI (Relativistic Ultrafast Electron Diffraction and Imaging) will be the world’s most powerful microscope for imaging dynamics and position the UK as a global leader in ultrafast electron microscopy.

The only instrument of its kind, it will have both the fastest time resolution electron microscope and the fastest time resolution electron diffraction instrument, to uniquely support UK scientific research across the core sciences.

RUEDI will enable the dynamic, rather than static, study of biological and chemical processes in ‘real time’ as they happen and at the femtosecond timescale – that’s a millionth of a billionth of a second or faster.

This is akin to the difference between seeing the final score in a football match and being able to observe all the action that takes place before, during and after the match.

This unique capability opens the door for researchers to explore changes in living cells as they happen to help develop more personalised treatments for patients and to find new ways of generating renewable energy and designing better batteries for a sustainable future.

It will also provide new insight to the structural integrity of materials – such as plastics, concrete and steel – during extreme conditions such as explosions, earthquakes and advanced manufacturing processes and it will help unveil the underlying phenomena that will lead to quantum computing, a new generation of computers.

RUEDI is a collaborative partnership between the University of Liverpool, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Rosalind Franklin Institute.

Starting construction in 2027 and opening in 2032, it will be located at the STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory at Sci-Tech Daresbury in the Liverpool City Region.

Professor Nigel Browning, Chair of Electron Microscopy in the School of Engineering at the University of Liverpool, will lead RUEDI.

Professor Browning has more than two decades of research expertise in dynamic imaging of materials processes in electron microscopy.

He said:

“This announcement is excellent news for the University of Liverpool, for the North West region and for the UK scientific community.

“RUEDI is the first facility to allow the evolution of structural changes in materials to be observed and determined through time-resolved experiments, rather than by static structure. This ground-breaking capability will help researchers develop the new technologies and solutions needed to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.”

University of Liverpool Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Jones said:

“I am delighted that the University of Liverpool is leading this new national research facility which will position the UK as a world leader in electron microscopy. RUEDI will be a fundamental asset for a wide range of scientific fields, driving advances and delivering discoveries that change our world for the better.”

Professor Angus Kirkland, RUEDI Lead for Life Sciences, Chair of Materials at the University of Oxford, and Science Director at the Rosalind Franklin Institute, said:

“We are thrilled to be part of this partnership with the University of Liverpool and STFC. This project has great potential to revolutionise how we see life, using this technology we will be able to see interactions happening within a cell at molecular resolution. This will give us new insights into biology and will hopefully open the door to the discovery of new medicines.”

Professor Mark Thomson, Executive Chair for the Science and Technologies Facilities Council and Infrastructure Champion for UKRI said of the UKRI investment supporting the programme, said:

“Through these investments UKRI continues to equip the research and innovation community with the tools it needs to explore and develop the science and technologies needed for the coming decades. The long-term nature of this investment also helps to maintain the UK’s key position on the world.”

RUEDI is one of five new infrastructure projects announced today to equip the UK’s research and innovation base for the future.

Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, said:

“As science and technology develops faster than ever, it is vital we ensure UK innovators have the right tools at their disposal to continue ground-breaking work from revolutionising medicine to protecting the world we live in for generations to come.

“From digitising millions of specimens to help halt future pandemics, to building the most powerful microscope of its type right here in the UK to improve drug design, to better information sharing between labs, our £473m investment infrastructure will set the conditions that allow our brightest minds to thrive and build a healthier and more prosperous UK.”

RUEDI is supported through the UKRI Infrastructure Fund programme with a financial contribution of £124.4 million, administered through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

RUEDI will support multi-disciplinary research in key scientific and technological areas across the UK via five scientific research themes: Dynamics of Chemical Change; Energy Generation, Conversion and Storage; Quantum Materials and Processes; Biosciences; and Materials in Extreme Conditions with Artificial Intelligence and Data Science underpinning all themes. The University of Leeds and Swansea University are partners in the science programme.

Find out more about RUEDI