Research Fellows Directory
Professor Adrian Sutton FRS
Imperial College London
Whether or not nuclear fusion becomes a reality for the generation of abundant, cheap energy depends to a very large extent on whether materials can be developed that can withstand the impact of very high energy neutrons that are discharged by the nuclear fusion reactions. These neutrons have such high energies that when they impact a metal most of their energy is lost initially to the electrons in the metal. These "electronic excitations" have been extremely difficult to include in computer simulations of such impacts because they involve quantum physics in models containing many more atoms than can normally be treated at the level of quantum mechanics. Part of my work since 2005 has focused on the development of a computational model for a generic crystalline metal, and its implementation in a major piece of software (spICED - sparse parallel Imperial College Ehrenfest Dynamics) we have written to treat the electronic excitations in such impacts explicitly and fully quantum mechanically. We have discovered a range of important new phenomena, which we summarised in a major review article published in the past year. Perhaps more significantly our work showed that it is indeed possible to develop models that are realistic yet sufficiently simple to enable tens of thousands of atoms to be treated. This was thought to be impossible. I believe this research has broken new ground in the simulation of metals under the conditions one expects in a nuclear reactor.
One of the new research projects I started this year concerns the prediction from a molecular basis of the porosity of polymer membrane nanofilters. This is a collaboration with a Chemical Engineer at Imperial, Professor Andrew Livingston FREng, who makes these films for a wide range of applications in the Chemical Industry to separate chemicals. They may also be used to turn salt water into drinking water.