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Science, engineering and technology at AWE covers a number of technical areas which include our support to the UK's deterrent, our responsibility for ensuring the safety of the warheads, and our commitment to national nuclear security.
Engineers use pioneering science-based methodology – a ground-breaking approach which allows us to certify nuclear warheads without underground testing, and to predict the performance of a system which cannot be tested.
Our engineers provide vital expertise to hydrodynamics and plasma physics and to the national nuclear security programmes.
Manufacturing plays a vital role in delivering our mission to maintain and assure continuity of warheads to support the UK's deterrence programme. We have a number of facilities across our sites and we use a diverse range of materials and processes.
Our virtual reality team is leading the way in visualisation techniques which are crucial to AWE's core programme. This unique approach enables us to carry out sensitive work, such as weapon assembly and disassembly, through to supporting facilities and business functions.
High Performance Computing
High performance computing (HPC) provides three-dimensional modelling and simulation capabilities to support our research. We have a complete supercomputing solution for calculations required by the science and engineering elements of our programme.
The study of plasma physics is one of the key elements of our ability to maintain and underwrite warheads for the UK's strategic deterrent.
High-power lasers – such as the state-of-the-art Orion laser – and pulsed power facilities allow our scientists to work on pressures and densities found nowhere else on Earth, helping to determine the behaviour and characteristics of materials under extreme conditions - such that occur at the heart of a nuclear detonation. We are able to replicate and study, in the laboratory, these physical conditions - albeit on a small scale and over a tiny fraction of a second.
Hydrodynamics is an important area of study because when materials are explosively compressed they undergo extreme conditions causing them to behave more like liquids, as you would see in a warhead. The literal meaning of hydrodynamics is ‘water motion’ – the science of forces acting on or exerted by fluids.
Hydrodynamic experiments represent the most comprehensive test of our integrated capabilities and provide the Ministry of Defence with confidence in the UK's nuclear deterrent. We have a number of world-class facilities dedicated to hydrodynamics research.
Materials science supports the life cycle of warhead components and technologies to ensure reliability of the UK's strategic deterrent.
A nuclear warhead contains a vast range of materials including metals, ceramics, inorganic salts, rubbers, foams, adhesives, high explosives and radioactive substances. Many of these materials have unique handling issues and our dedicated facilities ensure a safe and secure environment to undertake research.
Radiation and systems science at AWE involves the use of computer simulations, supported by experiments, to provide the evidence required to underwrite the reliability of the UK’s nuclear deterrent.
This ensures that the system will function safely and reliably under a wide range of challenging and hostile environments.
Orion Laser Facility
The Orion laser facility is used to conduct research into high energy density physics phenomena, which occur at the heart of a nuclear explosion or the interior of a star
Our scientists play a vital role in helping international efforts to bring about a ban on live nuclear weapon testing. Our specialist team at our Blacknest site is continuously conducting seismic research to detect illicit nuclear tests and help reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide..