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Nuclear Physics

Atom makeup

Make up of an Atom
(Credit: Nuclear Science and Technology School)

A nucleus is a system of protons and neutrons, themselves composed of further sub-constituents (quarks), held together by the strong force.

The broad aim of Nuclear Physics research is to study the properties and structure of nuclei, and the mechanisms involved in their creation. This poses questions about the limits of nuclear stability, the fundamental physical processes which governed the formation of light nuclei in the first moments after the Big Bang, and the subsequent synthesis of heavier nuclei within stars.

Nuclear Physics research provides technologies which are transferable to wider applications, benefiting society in a range of areas including medicine, power production and security.

Research in this field comprises the design and research and development of detector systems, experimental work which is carried out at specific overseas facilities, data analysis, and a complementary theoretical programme.

The Nuclear Physics programme can be divided into four broad areas of research:

  • Nuclear structure
  • Nuclear astrophysics
  • Hadron physics
  • Phases of strongly interacting matter

Experimental Programme

STFC funds an active experimental and theoretical programme in Nuclear Physics in the research areas mentioned above.. UK research groups have won experimental beam time on a wide range of international facilities and lead many international physics programmes at facilities such as Isolde, Jyvaskyla, GSI, MaxLab, GANIL and JLAB.

Information on STFC funded Nuclear Physics programmes can be found in the links below.


CERN, founded in 1954 and situated on the France-Swiss border near Geneva, is a world leading laboratory using the largest and most complex scientific instruments to study fundamental particles. ALICE, an STFC funded project, is one of the four main experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.


The ISOL-SRS project major component of a wider European initiative that will exploit the heavy ion storage-ring facility, TSR, to be installed at the HIE-ISOLDE radioactive-beam accelerator at CERN. The UK will construct two high-resolution, high-efficiency detector sub-systems for the storage ring that will allow high-resolution measurements of nuclear reactions for the full range of masses of radioactive beams available at HIE-ISOLDE.

Jefferson Laboratory

Situated in Newport News on the south eastern coast of Virginia, Jefferson Laboratory (JLab) is one of the world’s leading facilities for hadron physics. There has been strong UK involvement at JLab since 1996, supported by STFC and EPSRC funding.


Silicon tracker

R3B silicon tracker
(Credit: NUSTAR Collaboration)

The STFC Nuclear Physics Group, along with the Universities of Birmingham, Brighton, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Surrey, West of Scotland and York are currently funded by STFC, to construct components for three experiments in the NUSTAR project for the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research laboratory at GSI in Darmstadt, Germany:

  • In the R3B project the UK collaboration is responsible for the construction of the silicon tracker for the recoil detector array. The research that will be carried out at R3B hopes to shed light on the structure of the nucleus close to the limits of stability.
  • The DESPEC experiment is looking to study the process by which many of the heavier elements are formed in supernova. The UK is involved in the development of a new gamma-ray array which will be capable of detecting gamma-ray coincidences to an extremely high time resolution.
  • As part of the HISPEC experiment, the UK is developing the calorimeter array LYCCA and integrating AGATA (Advanced Gamma Tracking Array) into the experiment. The HISPEC project hopes to measure electromagnetic transitions in exotic, unstudied nuclei.

STFC Nuclear Physics Group

STFC's Nuclear Physics Group is based at the Daresbury Laboratory. The group's main role is to support and contribute to the UK's Nuclear Structure research programme.

The members of Nuclear Physics Group offer expertise in a number of different specialised areas. They are involved in the design and installation of equipment in facilities around the world. The group responds to requests for support from the UK nuclear physics community and others. The nuclear physicists in the group also have their own research programmes which are carried out at international facilities, often in collaboration with other groups.

Nuclear Physics Funding

For further information on funding for nuclear physics, please see the funding page.

Nuclear Physics Advisory Panel

The Nuclear Physics Advisory Panel provides a link between STFC Science Board and the nuclear physics community, and represents the needs of the community to STFC.

STFC Nuclear Physics Summer Schools

First and second year nuclear physics PhD students in the UK and overseas are also invited to attend the Nuclear Physics Summer School, which provides training on theoretical, experimental and applied Nuclear Physics from world-leading experts, as well as tutorials, opportunities to present your research and career and public engagement sessions.

Nuclear Physics in society

Nuclear Physics positively influences our daily lives, through advances in technology, health, and energy production, and yet is often misunderstood by the general public.


Last updated: 19 March 2021


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