A PIONEERING laboratory that has given the world super computers, record-breaking lasers and a new understanding of the universe is celebrating 60 years in the Oxfordshire countryside.

Several hundred researchers have been at the forefront of huge discoveries at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) since it was built in 1957.

To mark its anniversary, Science Minister Jo Johnson hailed the laboratory as "a great success story for British science, acting as a platform for our world-leading researchers to work collaboratively with international counterparts."

RAL, which is funded and managed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council and is part of the Harwell Campus, was started by the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science.

Since its inception, the site has produced world-changing research in particle physics, computer science, laser development and space travel.

In 1961, it was home to the Atlas 1 computer, the most powerful computer in the world at that time.

RAL Space has supported more than 210 missions including the launch of Canada's first satellite Alouette 1 in 1962.

The STFC executive director of national laboratories, Andrew Taylor, said: “The UK is at the forefront of scientific discovery and provides world-class facilities to scientists, engineers and researchers from the UK and beyond.

"Sitting on the international advisory committees for China, US, Europe and Japan, I am proud to be a part of such amazing science and look forward to where our new discoveries take us."

A further development saw the Central Laser Facility (CLF) opened at RAL in 1977.

Techniques developed by the facility that allows lasers to ‘see’ through barriers is now being used to detect original artwork beneath famous paintings and screen liquids passing through airport security, among other uses.

In 2005 The Guinness Book of World Records recognised RAL's Vulcan laser as the world’s most intense laser.

Dr Taylor added: “The past 60 years have seen fantastic changes at RAL, but surely the best is yet to come.

"A golden age beckons with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory as the linchpin of future developments on the Harwell campus.”

RAL has continued to build on its international reputation in recent years, playing a major role in international facilities such as CERN.

The Cutting-edge CGI and animation technologies developed at the site prompted the Financial Times to dub the laboratory ‘the home of computer animation in Britain’.

In 2020, a new national satellite test facility will open its doors, providing services for the assembly, integration and testing of satellites, aiming to accelerate growth in the UK space industry, said to be worth more than £250 billion.