Collaboration Helps ISIS Maintain Position as World Leading Facility


    Science Research High Performance Operations

    Collaborating with Tessella allows ISIS to accelerate the selection and implementation of EPICS (Experimental Physics and Industrial Control System) providing scientists with an Open Source platform to control state of the art experimental facilities for the materials and life sciences communities.

    ISIS is a world-leading centre for research in the physical and life sciences at the STFC (Science and Technology Facilities Council) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford in the United Kingdom. Its suite of neutron and muon instruments gives unique insights into the properties of materials on the atomic scale. An international community of more than 3000 scientists uses the instruments for research into subjects ranging from clean energy and the environment, pharmaceuticals and health care, through to nanotechnology and materials engineering, catalysis and polymers.

    Instrument Control

    Critical to the operation and capability of the ISIS facility are the systems and software used to control the instruments themselves, as well as the ability to take advantage of new instruments that can support more complex experiments and situations such as “scan in motion”.

    Debbie Greenfield, Head of ISIS Instrumentation Division comments “In order to maintain our reputation as a leading muon and neutron source we need the flexibility to control and rapidly commission instruments with new capabilities, with significantly more axes and utilizing complex real time monitoring of movements and data acquisition”.

    ISIS were using a heavily customized commercial software environment for instrument control, but it was becoming increasingly challenging to take advantage of new instrument capabilities because of architectural limits in the way the software operated. The environment had also become very ISIS specific, reducing the flexibility to use instrument drivers “offthe-shelf” and to collaborate with other facilities on the Rutherford Appleton site and around the world.

    ISIS has a long-standing relationship with Tessella, having already collaborated with them on other scientific platforms such as the MANTID system. Tessella were chosen to help research and choose a new software environment for instrumental control to better support EPICS over the next 10 years.


    Following a formal study, the EPICS (Experimental Physics and Industrial Control System) software environment was chosen. EPICS is a set of Open Source software tools, libraries and applications developed collaboratively and used worldwide to create distributed soft real-time control systems for scientific instruments such as a particle accelerators, telescopes and other large scientific experiments.

    Tessella provided ISIS with professional software development and project management expertise to manage the transition from their existing commercial platform to using the Open Source environment. In particular this meant balancing demands of continuing to run and support instruments in a commercial software environment as well as migrating instruments over to EPICS in order to deliver the more powerful instrument capabilities.

    Tessella have used professional software best practice techniques to help the internal team prioritize and balance demands, deal with the backlog of requirements as well as efficiently gather new instrument control requirements through regular meetings with ISIS scientists. This has enabled the team to maintain focus on delivering new instrument control using EPICS without being subsumed by day-to-day maintenance and support demands of the existing system. To date, 2 of the 30 ISIS beam lines have been successfully transitioned over to EPICS opening up the use of new capabilities and enabling ISIS users to conduct more advanced experiments. The target is to safely transition all 30 beams over to EPICS by 2017.

    Tessella’s unique scientific software expertise and domain knowledge made rapid progress achievable. Using the flexibility of EPICS along with Tessella’s agile development best practice has enabled the ability to prioritize and respond to new requirements on a daily, rather than weekly, basis.


    With EPICS, ISIS now have a more modular, flexible and extensible Open Source platform that enables them to share and use “off-the-shelf” instrument drivers as well as collaborate more closely with other facilities and systems such as ISIS MANTID and the Diamond Light Source on the Rutherford Appleton site and other scientific facilities around the world.

    Using EPICS alongside software project management expertise means that ISIS can more quickly deliver support and service to its community of 3000 scientists, enabling them to maintain their position as a world-leading particle acceleration facility and neutron source.


    • An open extensible and modular instrument control environment that allows ISIS to leverage new instrument capabilities – and provide scientists with the ability to run more complex experiments
    • A partner with expertise in professional software development and project management as well as domain knowledge


    • Faster delivery of new instrument capabilities and software, while continuing to support and maintain existing platform
    • More rapid response to new requirements from scientific community
    • Easier collaboration with other facilities around the world