Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: University of York
Dates: Aug 2011-Jul 2016
Summary: My research is primarily aimed at understanding how to access the conditions that allow fusion energy to be achieved here on earth. Fusion is the process that powers the sun, and offers the potential for effectively limitless, environmentally friendly, economic energy production. It is extremely difficult to create fusion conditions here on earth, requiring the fuel (isotopes of hydrogen) to be heated to ten times the temperature at the centre of the sun. This hot fuel can be held in a magnetic bottle: a geometry of magnetic field that can hold the fuel in a plasma state away from the material walls of the containment vessel. My research addresses two plasma science challenges that can help us realise fusion conditions. The first concerns plasma confinement: the ability to hold the heat and particles of the plasma by a magnetic field. In the extreme conditions required for fusion, the plasma is in a rather turbulent state, and this greatly enhances the heat loss from the magnetic bottle compared to the baseline diffusion processes that arise from particle collisions. If we could quench this turbulence, then fusion energy to the grid would likely be a reality today. One possible mechanism that can suppress turbulence, if not completely quench it, is to drive strong flows in the plasma. I am interested in how such flows affect the small scale plasma instabilities and hence the turbulence they drive. My other area of research concerns larger scale plasma instabilities. These can lead to large eruptions of plasma from the tokamak core, for example, with characteristics of miniature solar flares. I am interested in the physics that underlies these eruptions and developing sufficient understanding to enable control techniques to be developed. This is important for the fusion-class tokamak called ITER, presently under construction in France, where large eruptions could cause damage to components.