skip to content

Department of Physics

The Cavendish Laboratory

The Cavendish Laboratory can claim to be the world's most famous physics laboratory. The distinction of the research carried out since its foundation in 1874 is highlighted in the brief history section. But physics is a living and dynamic discipline which continues to expand in intellectual depth and breadth, both in its own right and as an underpinning discipline for all of the physical and, now, the biological and life sciences. The way in which physics is carried out is changing with the development of new techniques, new ways of working and new fields of inquiry.

The core of the Laboratory's programme is the continued exploitation of the many research fields in which the Cavendish has gained an international reputation, and for which there are exciting plans for the future. An account of just some of these many frontier areas of research is provided in Research at the Cavendish. It is striking how different the programme looks from the traditional view of what physics is about. Particularly significant are the many cross-linkages with other departments, particularly in the physics of biology, medicine and the life sciences. These developments will require new investment in infrastructure. Facilities such as high performance computing, high performance clean rooms and the need to be able to handle biological materials have become an integral part of the structure of the laboratory. Collaborative working with other departments also requires greater flexibility. The teaching programme has also evolved in content, style and method, reflecting the changing background of students coming to Cambridge and the changing demands of the world in which they will work upon graduation. In parallel with these changes, physics needs to become more engaged with society, explaining the content of the discipline to young people and the general public.

In 2002, it was recognised by the University that it is essential to rebuild the Laboratory in order to facilitate the changing requirements of the research and teaching programmes:

The Physics of Medicine building as of Jan 2008
  • The present buildings, constructed in 1974, are no longer appropriate for the current programme or, in light of new interdisciplinary collaborations and new investigative techniques, for the future direction of research at the Cavendish.
  • The provision of state-of-the-art laboratories, offices and supporting infrastructure, including scientific computing, with all the advantages of modern design, will enable the Cavendish to maintain and enhance its contribution to physics at the highest international level.
  • The reconstruction of the Laboratory will complement the University's ambitious plans for a major contemporary science complex on the West Cambridge site.

The benefits for physics and physics-related success will be immense, enabling us to continue to attract the very best staff and collaborators from around the world. Through imaginative planning, the University will gain a modern vehicle for interdisciplinary research housed in state-of-the-art Laboratories.

These proposals were approved by the University in 2003 and the first phases of redevelopment have begun with the construction of Phase One of the Physics of Medicine Building and the Kavli Institute of Cosmology. There are ambitious plans to continue the programme of redevelopment through a phased reconstruction of the Laboratory on its present site. Fortunately, the Cavendish site is large enough to enable the existing programmes to continue while the new buildings are constructed.

There are many opportunities for involvement in these major developments for physics and science. For some examples of current flagship projects, see 800th Campaign Funding Opportunities, or contact us for more information.