The 20 Most Cutting-Edge Research Centers in the World

Written By: Melanie Foster

We're only three years away from the time Back to the Future predicted we would all be riding hoverboards  . If we have any chance at all of getting there, we'll probably have one of these 20 research centers to thank for it. These buildings and compounds house the most leading-edge facilities and equipment in the world (and nearby) and continuously prod mankind ever forward in its technological evolution.

  1. CERN, Geneva, Switzerland  :

    Exactly no one was surprised that the recent announcement of the discovery of the “God particle  ” came from the high-tech halls of CERN. The European Organization for Nuclear Research conducts research with the benefit of cool tools like the particle accelerator called the Large Hadron Collider, the Super Proton Synchrotron, the Antiproton Decelerator, and more.

  2. International Space Station, low Earth orbit  :

    Technically it's not in the world, but it's close. Nowhere else can zero gravity research be done continuously for years. The fields of study at the ISS run the scientific gamut, and the equipment   reflects that diversity. There's Veggie, the vegetable production system; the Advanced Protein Crystallization Facility; the Refrigerated Centrifuge; and the GN2, a nitrogen freezer, just to name a few.

  3. National Ignition Facility, Livermore, Calif.  :

    Four billion dollars buys some pretty amazing technology. This football-field-sized building contains high-gain preamplifiers, deformable mirrors, large, rapid-growth crystals, and one of the most sophisticated computer networks on the planet. The NIF recently broke a record by using its 192 lasers to produce a beam of light with 500 trillion watts of power  .

  4. Ames Research Center, Silicon Valley, California  :

    With $3 billion in equipment, this NASA facility has more technology than many countries. The world's largest wind tunnel is here, as is the Ames Vertical Gun Range   with light-gas gun that can fire a projectile 7 kilometers in a second. Research into intelligent robots, human-machine integration, space materials, and more in the field of Space and Planetary Science are all features of this amazing place.

  5. Birck Nanotechnology Center, West Lafayette, Ind.  :


    Purdue University's Birck Center is a world-class spot for researchers to forward man's knowledge of technology at the atomic level. The 187,000-square-foot facility houses all manner of cutting-edge devices, from atomic and electron microscopes to spectrophotometers to pulsed lasers to thermal evaporators.

  6. National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Tallahassee, Fla.:

    Florida State University owns this high-tech building nicknamed the Magnet Lab, the highest-powered lab of its kind in the world. Researchers come from far and wide to study the effects of the magnetic fields producing by the world's biggest magnets and their application to everything from chemistry to physics to bioengineering.

  7. National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Urbana, Ill.  :

    The University of Illinois' NCSA encompasses three buildings, including the 88,000-square-foot National Petascale Computing Facility. Its powerful in-house technology is put to use in cybersecurity, environmental study, and more. The center's flagship is the petaflop computer known as Blue Waters, one of the world's most powerful supercomputers.

  8. McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Pittsburgh:

    Some of the most amazing medical research today is happening at this center set up by the University of Pittsburgh. Here in the 45,000-square-foot green facility, researchers make breakthroughs in tissue engineering, stem cell therapy, and artificial organs. Innovations like the ability to regrow digits or limbs are already coming from McGowan and will permanently change the face of medicine.

  9. iDAPT Center, Toronto:

    This $36-million rehab facility that stands for Intelligent Design for Adaptation, Participation and Technology is actually a collection of 13 state-of-the-art labs at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. Its 65,000 square feet house some of the most amazing technology today, like the WinterLab's motion simulator   that can mimic different weather environments like icy steps and busy roads.

  10. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.  :


    Basically every NASA research breakthrough has come with the help of the JPL. Managed by CalTech, this lab benefits from the technology produced by the in-house Center for Space Microelectronics Technology and its in-house Microdevices Laboratory, like spectrometers for measuring gases and gallium arsenide-based quantum well infrared photodetectors for infrared mapping. The most recent notable result of this technology has been associated with the Mars Curiosity Rover  .

  11. Aquarius, Key Largo, Fla.  :

    The world's only underwater laboratory, Aquarius has been the site of some of the most cutting-edge research in recent memory. Since 1993, research on everything from marine science to NASA asteroid missions   has been conducted here. Unfortunately, with recent budget cuts, the lab's days may be numbered  .

  12. PIAP, Warsaw, Poland  :

    Short for the Industrial Research Institute for Automation and Measurements, PIAP is renowned as a leader in the field of robotics. The Institute's work has produced counterterrorism robots like the Tactical Throwable Robot  , systems for car recycling, and tools for personal security, military operations, and border surveillance.

  13. Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas  :

    Air bags, bar-code readers, time-released medicine, and liquid paper all came out of this massive research center in west Texas. The cutting-edge research and development that continues here — dubbed   “a thousand scientists trying to solve a thousand problems a day” — involves research on fuels, physics, space science, automation, and a slew of other areas.

  14. Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, Alaska:

    Money from the Exxon Valdez settlement helped start this research center/public aquarium on Resurrection Bay. Here marine biology goes high-tech: sea lions are studied with telemetry devices strapped to their hides and their health gauged remotely with 3D photogrammetry, migration routes are tracked by satellite, and GIS combines with biology as biogeography.

  15. Centre Valbio, Madagascar  :

    It took nearly a decade, but work was recently completed on this cutting-edge facility on the edge of a rainforest called Ranomafana. Scientists from all over the globe will study the array of native species from this green building, with its roof-top gardens, natural cooling and water management systems, and even high-speed internet.

  16. Berkeley Robotics & Human Engineering Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif.:

    Some of the most groundbreaking work in the field of biomechanics has been done here at UC Berkeley's research lab. The first low-cost exoskeleton was made here to help a paraplegic Berkeley grad walk at his graduation. The lab continues to work with hydraulic human power extenders and biomimetic robotics to further the study of automation.

  17. Imperial College London, London:

    This respected institution is well-known for its state-of-the-art facilities. Students in the chemistry department can take advantage of electrospray- and MALTI-TOF-mass spectrometers, crystal X-ray diffractometers, fluorimeters, thermogravimetric analyzers, and more. The school's brand new Imperial Centre for Translational and Experimental Medicine also promises to produce breakthroughs with its next-gen gene sequencing machines and molecular imaging technology.

  18. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tenn.  :

    When it comes to cancer research, St. Jude's is at the front of the pack with this facility in Memphis. The recent expansion to 2.5 million square feet of research space makes plenty of room for a next-gen cyclotron for PET scans ad the latest devices in radiation therapy. The St. Jude Hartwell Center for Bioinformatics and Biotechnology   is a world-class building for DNA sequencing, proteomics and mass spectrometry, and other vital research.

  19. Salk Institute, La Jolla, Calif.  :

    Named for the celebrated inventor of the polio vaccine, the Institute is not only one of the world's finest biomed research centers, it's also one of the most cutting-edge. At the Center for Cytometry and Molecular Imaging, researchers study cell sorting and phosphorimaging. At the Gene Transfer, Targeting and Therapeutics Core facility, scientists work with viruses like rabies. Those are only two of the handful of departments here that are on the forefront of scientific research.

  20. University of Victoria Advanced Microscopy Facility, Victoria, British Columbia:

    The world's highest-resolution microscope — the HF-3300V, or Scanning Transmission Electron Holography Microscope — is housed here alongside various other powerful microscopes at the University of Victoria. The school supplements this cutting-edge tool with equipment like an ion beam system, a low-energy plasma cleaner, and a carbon coater used in image magnification.