The Institute was proposed in September 2003 and officially opened by the UK Minister for Science, Lord Sainsbury, in September 2006. It is located at Daresbury Laboratory and is adjacent to the Daresbury Innovation Centre. The Scottish Centre for the Applications of Plasma-based Accelerators (SCAPA) at the University of Strathclyde provides a complementary set of experimental facilities to those available at Daresbury.
The Institute is named after the Nobel prizewinner Sir John Cockcroft FRS. Born in Todmorden in north west England, and educated in part in Manchester, he is regarded as the pioneer of modern accelerator research.