Harwell’s new £40 million research building will be unique in the UK

Photo shows Chair of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Vivienne Cox, and others at the ground-breaking event
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Work has begun on a new research building at Harwell Campus near Oxford that will be unique in the UK in the scientific capabilities it provides.

The £40 million building – the central hub for the Rosalind Franklin Institute – will be situated at the Harwell Campus. The Rosalind Franklin is a new national research institute, funded by the UK government through UK Research and Innovation, that carries out interdisciplinary research and develops new technologies to transform our understanding of diseases and speed up drug design.

Rosalind Franklin Institute CGI

CGI of the Rosalind Franklin Institute building at Harwell Campus

Chair of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Vivienne Cox, said: “This is an exciting day for the Institute as we begin to build the hub which is such an important part of our vision.  We already have several projects underway with our partners across the UK, and the hub will provide further impetus, creating a fantastic space for research and collaboration that will enable real advances to be made.”

Director of the Rosalind Franklin, Jim Naismith, said: “We want to leverage some of the key engineering expertise which is uniquely based at Harwell. There is a critical mass of expertise here which isn’t replicated anywhere else in the country. The big win is what this facility will do for the understanding of life sciences.”

The critical mass of science expertise at Harwell Campus is admired the world over, according to Jim.

The ground floor of the building, which will house sensitive scientific instruments, sets the design apart. The foundations of the ground floor will be separated from the rest of the building to shield it from vibration. To prevent electromagnetic interference, stainless steel reinforcement will be used in the structure, and non-ferrous materials used in the fabric, finishes and MEP services. The aim is to create a close to perfect, stable environment to test the limits of specialist technologies such as electron microscopy and mass spectrometry.

The remaining three floors will house collaborative working spaces, offices and social areas as well as structural biology, chemistry and imaging laboratories, designed to be flexible to support new collaborations and avenues of technological development as the Institute grows. Set to open in late 2020, the 5400mbuilding will ultimately provide space for over 200 researchers from academia and industry.

The building will honour the Institute’s namesake, Rosalind Franklin, the experimental scientist famous for taking the X-ray photograph of DNA that helped establish its helical structure. The front of the building will incorporate graphics of the DNA double helix taken from the iconic X-ray photograph – known as Photo 51.

Terry Spraggett, Managing Director for Public Sector Construction for Mace, who will carry out the build, said: “This is a hugely important project that has the potential to transform the lives of millions through the cutting-edge research it will support. It is a complex and technically challenging build that we are proud to be delivering on behalf of the Rosalind Franklin Institute and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.”

The construction will be managed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, who are also one of the partners of the Institute alongside ten leading UK universities. Harwell Science and Innovation Campus was chosen as the ideal site for the hub as it also houses other complementary research capabilities, including the STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Diamond Light Source, as well as attracting industrial partners who take advantage of the co-location of these national research facilities to collaborate and further their own scientific research.

Commenting on this latest RFI milestone, STFC Executive Chair Professor Mark Thomson said “One of STFC’s key initiatives in recent years has been the creation of our very successful health technology cluster here at Harwell. As the delivery partner for the new home of the Rosalind Franklin Institute we see this unique facility as an essential element in that growing health technology ecosystem and I look forward to supporting the RFI in finding answers to the great challenges of the day in the life sciences”.