The Research Complex at Harwell (RCaH)

The Research Complex at Harwell (RCaH) is a £24m government-funded research facility, based next to Diamond Light Source - the UK's national synchrotron science facility - on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.


The brief was to design and build:

  1. A new website that would attract the brightest and best scientists to use the facility as the base for their research
  2. A hosted software application that would make it easy for them to apply to use the facilities.

The new website and software application needed to work together seamlessly to give users a great experience that communicated ‘science, research and innovation’.

“I’ve fallen back in love with the website. And the software application is making my life easier on a day-to-day basis.”
Sadie Primmer
Business Support Manager, RCaH

The old RCaH website was not only out of date, but unwieldy and inflexible. It had grown so large that content was either hard to find, or irrelevant. The software application was to replace a paper-based form and an enormous spreadsheet that had to be populated manually by the Business Support Manager (BSM). This process was complex, time-consuming, prone to error, not secure and wholly dependent on the BSM.

Alberon won the contract to do the work in a pitch against three other digital agencies. We were chosen because the RCaH team felt that:

  • We understood their organisation and what they were trying to achieve
  • Our background in working with science and technology organisations gave us a deep understanding of the target audience
  • Our skills and experience covered both software and website development.

We worked closely with the BSM to determine exactly which parts of the existing website were essential, and which were no longer necessary. We developed a new structure that would make it easy for users to find what they were searching for. We included a list of research publications, and a ‘Subscribe’ function for a newsletter.
Although not part of the original requirement, it became apparent at the design stage that the existing RCaH logo was no longer fit for purpose. In the context of the fresh and innovative new look and feel, it felt outdated and stale. We designed a new logo, which communicates in a simple stylish and scientific way that RCaH is a central node in the science network.

RCaH will now be using this logo for all its online and offline collateral.

The application captures information on the applicant’s project, the facilities requested, individual team members, and Health & Safety requirements. The applicant must complete information for every team member including passport details and work permits.

The application was built to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). For example, an email is automatically generated and sent to anyone whose data is held on the system, informing them why it is being held and for how long, how it will be stored and processed, and what their rights are.

When the applicant’s request is approved, the system automatically sends an email informing the group leader of the status of the project and, near the end of the project, automatically sends an email one month before the expiry date. Once the expiry date is reached, the names are removed from the system and access to the facilities is denied.

The benefits

The Director and staff of RCaH are very pleased with the website. They hope and expect that it will be a worthy shop window to the world-class research and facilities offered by RCaH, and will attract new researchers to come and work at the site.

The software application has, quite simply, revolutionised the way in which RCaH processes its applicants. It has improved the working life of the BSM, and scientists who are applying to work at RCaH have a greatly improved experience.


In summary:

  • By making the application process intuitive and easy to use, more scientists will be encouraged to apply. Put another way – fewer will be put off.
  • Improved data security and compliance with GDPR requirements.
  • Users can have a view of the data held in the system in a format that is most useful to them.
  • Saves the BSM about four days per month in time. This fact alone means that the application will have paid for itself within two years.
  • Helps position RCaH as the forward-thinking, innovative, technology-enabled organisation that it is.
University of Oxford, Department of Physics