Denys Wilkinson Building, Banbury Road, Oxford University

Philip Dowson of Arup
Date Built
Banbury Road
The Denys Wilkinson Building is home to the University of Oxford's astrophysics and particle physics departments.  It is named in honour of the physicist who was involved in the design of the building.  The fan-shaped portion of the building was originally home to a vertical electrostatic accelerator.

The Physics Department issued a press release on June 20, 2002, when the building was renamed and dedicated to Denys Wilkinson.  They said in that release that, " The building’s most outstanding feature is the angular tower clearly visible from Banbury Road, which was constructed to house a tall electrostatic accelerator. ....

.... This machine accelerated atomic nuclei to high energies, sufficient to penetrate heavy nuclei and study their structure. During the 40 years since, the emphasis of research there has gradually changed from nuclear physics to particle physics – the study of the basic building blocks of matter, far smaller than nuclei, and the forces that act upon them. In the early 1990s the various physics departments at Oxford were unified into a single Physics Department, and Nuclear Physics evolved into the Subdepartment of Particle Physics, which now supports the largest UK University group in this research area. ....

.... In 1961 work began on the first phase of the building, which included a tower designed by Philip Dowson to house the vertical accelerator, with the second accelerator and laboratories in its base.  This tower is a prominent landmark on Banbury Road, its elegant shape tapering from the minimum required by the accelerator at is base and fanning out towards the top to provide space for handling of the accelerator components by a 15-ton crane.  The side walls, constructed from individual 55-60 ft concrete beams, are convex at the base and concave at the very top, supporting a straight horizontal beam near the top on each side for the crane.  The large size of the accelerators required that the construction of the building and accelerator proceed in parallel.  The accelerators and this first phase of the building were completed in 1964.  The remaining sections of the building, in the form of two intersecting squares, were completed in 1969 to provide offices and additional laboratories for the department.

Following the decommissioning of the accelerator in 1997, the upper part of the tower has been converted for the Subdepartment of Astrophysics into pleasant office space with a view out over Oxford.  The basement now contains equipment for experimental work by undergraduates in the Physics Department, including a small Van de Graaff accelerator.  The rest of the building now houses the Subdepartment of Particle Physics and the Subdepartment of Astrophysics as well as other facilities including the new accelerator of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit."

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