What is Porton Down?

Porton Down is a UK government research facility located near Salisbury in Wiltshire, England. Officially known as the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), Porton Down is primarily tasked with conducting scientific research and development to support the UK’s defence and security objectives.

Porton Down has a long history dating back to World War I when it was established as a centre for chemical weapons research. Over the years, its focus has shifted towards defence research more broadly, encompassing areas such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) defence, as well as cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and military technology development.

The facility is renowned for its expertise in areas such as chemical and biological defence, including the detection and mitigation of chemical and biological threats. Porton Down played a key role in the response to various incidents involving chemical and biological agents, including the Salisbury poisonings in 2018, where a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent.

In addition to its defence-related activities, Porton Down also engages in civilian research and collaborates with academic institutions, industry partners, and international organizations on a wide range of scientific projects.

Porton Down serves as a vital hub for scientific research and innovation in support of the UK’s national security and defense capabilities. Combining opportunities for science and security (politics) students it is a great place to be employed.

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the focus on protecting critical national infrastructure not only provides a vital service to safeguard key sectors but also offers invaluable insights into the strategies employed by various industries to mitigate security risks.

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It’s impressive how its focus has broadened over the years. Have there been any notable civilian research projects or collaborations that caught your attention?

The death of Aircraftsman Ronald Maddison in 1953 was an interesting case. He died following participation in a trial in which a number of small drops of the nerve agent sarin were applied to the forearm through two layers of cloth. An inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing in 2004. He is the only member of the UK Armed Forces to have died as the direct result of participation in experimental tests carried out at Porton Down on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.

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I didn’t realise it’s involved in such a wide range of research areas. Definitely a unique opportunity for science and security students