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Work begins on University of Cambridge's new £300m Cavendish Laboratory and shared facilities hub

Construction work has begun on the University of Cambridge’s new £300million Cavendish Laboratory and a neighbouring shared facilities hub.

Work begins on new Cambridge University Physics lab (6453701)
Work begins on new Cambridge University Physics lab (6453701)

Home to the Department of Physics, the development, at the West Cambridge campus off Madingley Road, will provide a purpose-built centre for world-leading research, bringing together all of the Cavendish’s research groups under one roof.

The university vice-chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, and Caroline Buckingham, RIBA vice president, practice and profession, were joined by guests from the university, construction company Bouygues UK, and the local community for a ground-breaking ceremony to mark the start of work.

The flagship building will be named the Ray Dolby Centre, in recognition of a £75million gift from the estate of sound pioneer Ray Dolby. A further £10million was gifted to establish a Ray Dolby Research Group, including the endowment of a Ray Dolby Professorship.

With a gross internal area of around 354,000 sq ft (33,000 sq m), the Ray Dolby Centre will house a range of laboratories, offices, clean rooms, workshops and multiple lecture theatres. The basement area will incorporate specialist acoustic and vibration treatments to achieve the stringent control criteria necessary for operating equipment highly sensitive to vibration.

Cavendish Laboratory impression by Jestico + Whiles - Entrance from ramp. (6468692)
Cavendish Laboratory impression by Jestico + Whiles - Entrance from ramp. (6468692)

There are also challenging criteria to be met in relation to temperature and humidity control and EMI (electromagnetic interference) protection. An independent 50,000 sq ft (4,700 sq m) shared facilities hub will provide catering, collaborative teaching, meeting, study and library spaces to the campus.

Professor Andy Parker, head of the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge, said: “This is a great step in the development of physics research and learning at the University of Cambridge. We look forward to moving into our new facilities and opening our doors to the wider research community and the public to increase understanding and foster discovery.”

Beyond the technical aspects, particular attention has been paid to the environment, with both buildings designed to achieve a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) Excellent rating.

The project will help strengthen the university’s position as a leading site for physics research and will provide a world-class facility for the nation, with much of the research equipment made available to other institutions.

The building has also been designed to encourage collaboration and will host public events to support the extensive programme of work with schools, and the general public.

Fabienne Viala, chairman of Bouygues UK and UK country manager for Bouygues Construction, said: “Bouygues UK and our sister company Bouygues Energies and Services have been involved from the start on this exciting scheme, working alongside the University of Cambridge’s existing project team to develop proposals for a new world-class laboratory.

“It is exciting to break ground on this project that will see us bringing innovation, a collaborative approach and our technical expertise to create a new home for major academic research.”

In addition to the gift from the Dolby family, the new Cavendish Laboratory is made possible by £75million of funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The new facility is expected to be completed in 2022.

Cavendish Laboratory impression by Jestico + Whiles - Organic Cleanroom. (6468665)
Cavendish Laboratory impression by Jestico + Whiles - Organic Cleanroom. (6468665)

The Cavendish, which opened on the New Museums Site in 1874 before moving to West Cambridge in 1974, has an illustrious history, with 29 of its members winning Nobel Prizes.

The discovery of the electron by JJ Thomson, the discovery of artificial nuclear fission by Ernest Rutherford and James Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron are among its many achievements of the lab, where experimental proof was also first achieved that E=mc2.

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