Research at Lancaster University


This annexe to Physics houses a suite of 3 laboratories where vibration, noise and electromagnetic disturbance have been drastically reduced, creating an "ultra-clean" environment for measurement and characterisation.

IsoLab has been designed to provide the most advanced environments for studying quantum systems in controlled conditions. The build has been made possible by generous donations from the Wolfson Foundation, the J.P. Moulton Charitable Foundation and the Garfield Weston Foundation, and an award from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The building sits on its own massive concrete foundation, with three above-ground laboratories each contained in their own separate pod. In the basement of each pod sits a 50-ton concrete isolation block, accessible through a removable floor. Pod interiors are lined with material to shield acoustic and electromagnetic disturbance.

You can explore how some of the most sensitive experiments in the world are performed with hands-on activities and working demos. Come and join us to try these and other interactive exhibits and learn about one of the quietest places on Earth.

Pod 1: Nano-imaging and microscopy

Used for atomic and molecular imaging studies, pushing the boundaries of ultra-high resolution force imaging and measurement with atomic and molecular resolution far beyond current limits.

View inside Pod 1

Pod 2: Quantum Optics

Used to explore and exploit the quantum-mechanical behaviour of light and its interaction with optical devices, materials and components.

View inside Pod 2

Pod 3: Ultra-low Temperatures

Used to probe systems and devices at the extremes of low temperature, where the agitating effects of thermal noise can be ignored and the underlying quantum properties of matter shine through.

View inside Pod 3

How it Works

The scientists involved worked closely with the architects and builders to create a facility where isolation and quiet have been designed in from the start, and through every stage of the construction. Each pod is adaptable for future customisation, depending on use.

Deep foundations

The pods sit inside a 350-ton concrete tank, extending from ground level down 5 metres to a thick foundation resting on a mixture of clay and gravel.

Isolation blocks

The basement of each pod is filled with a 50-ton C-shaped isolation block that floats on 7 independently controlled air springs.

Electromagnetic and acoustic shielding

The entire inside surface of each pod, from basement floor to laboratory ceiling is coated with acoustic damping board, and lined with a custom-built metal plate Faraday cage. Pod 1 extends the acoustic shielding with a lining of foam tiles.

Electricity and data

Each pod has its own separate earthing nest and is supplied with 3-phase & single phase to the exterior service area. The interior of each pod is supplied with two sets of independently filtered clean single-phase sockets, DC in a range of voltages, and optical fibre.

Professor George Pickett explains in this presentation the origins and design of the IsoLab.

On-going Research

Nano-imaging and microscopy

Atomically resolved microscopy and spectroscopy of nanostructured and molecularly self-assembled materials. We are exploiting scanning probe microscopy and ultra-high frequency laser vibrometry to reach new levels of precision for characterisation at the sub-nanometre and atomic scale.

Quantum optics

Testing a quantum random number generator. Our invention turns the random nature of quantum mechanics into a stream of digital bits, based on the phenomenon of tunnelling, where electrons travel through barriers in a probabilistic fashion.

Ultra-low temperatures

Studying a new magnetic field sensor made from a combination of superconducting metals and graphene. The device only works at low temperatures, and is so sensitive that we are using it to see just how noisy the IsoLab environment actually is!

Key Contacts

An Introduction to IsoLab

Dr Jon Prance explains what makes IsoLab such a special facility, and how it allows Lancaster to push the boundaries of physics.