The Central Laser Facility (CLF) carries out research using lasers to investigate a broad range of science areas, spanning physics, chemistry, and biology. Their suite of laser systems allows them to focus light to extreme intensities, to generate exceptionally short pulses of light, and to image extremely small features.
The Central Laser Facility is currently building the Extreme Photonics Applications Centre (EPAC) in Oxfordshire, UK. EPAC is a new national facility to support UK science, technology, innovation and industry. It will bring together world-leading interdisciplinary expertise to develop and apply novel, laser based, non-conventional accelerators and particle sources which have unique properties.
The software control team inside Central Laser Facility develops applications that enable scientists to monitor and communicate with a wide range of scientific instruments. For example, the application can be used to move a motorised mirror to direct the laser beam toward a target, to watch a camera feed showing the current status of the system, or to configure and record data from a suite of cutting-edge scientific instruments such as x-ray cameras or electron spectrometers. These applications aggregate data and controls for specific tasks that a user needs to undertake - say, point the laser at a new target - and present them in a single screen to avoid the need to individually access all the different hardware necessary to make that happen.
The Challenge: Moving forward the control system for EPAC
As CLF started planning the design of a new control system for EPAC, their main goal was to tackle some of the challenges they were facing with the existing set of applications:
Minimise the adaptations needed to run on multiple operating systems. CLF currently supports Windows and Linux, with other platforms like Android and Web in planning.
Maximize code reuse while, at the same time, creating a scalable user interface. Their applications need to scale from mobile devices to large displays placed around the facility.
Support advanced graphical features, like themes for easily changing colour schemes; the palette needed for viewing a screen through laser goggles in a laboratory is different than one would use in a control room, where no goggles are necessary.
WinUI and Uno Platform were a perfect combination to tackle these challenges.
WinUI provides a state-of-the-art UI platform, which offers the powerful rendering capabilities needed by the application to show the real time feed coming from the cameras; to generate complex graphs that display in real-time the data captured by the instruments; to adapt to different layouts and form factors; ultimately, to easily create easy-to-use experiences thanks to a wide range of modern controls with full support to accessibility and multiple input types. Uno Platform is enabling the Central Laser Facility to take these features which empower the experience built for Windows and run it with no or minimal code changes on all the other platforms targeted by Central Laser Facility: Linux, Android and Web.
“Thanks to WinUI and Uno Platform, we were able to leverage the excellent set of developer tools that exists in .NET, and provides access to the reusable content in the Windows Community Toolkit and the XAML controls gallery.” shared Chris Gregory, Software Control Engineer. “The primary attraction for us was the ability to deploy applications cross-platform. This will allow us to visualise what's happening with our instrumentation on the Windows machines in the control room, the Linux systems running the back end, on a tablet inside the laboratory, or on a mobile device for off-site monitoring.
This flexibility means that scientists and engineers can see a uniform presentation of the information they need no matter where they are in our facility, with minimal extra developer effort. Added to this, the availability of such a rich set of controls will result in the development of applications that are much more intuitive to use”.