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An introduction... and some history

My background in fusion

Well, this is my first blog on the FuseNet site, so I think some introductions are in order. I'm now in the second year of my PhD at the York Plasma Institute, part of the University of York, doing research into what is ominously titled "Laser-Plasma Interactions". To those with some knowledge into the quest for achieving controlled fusion, this falls into the Inertial Confinement scheme, which is currently being pursued particularly in the US. I'm doing this PhD as part of the Fusion Doctoral Training Network (DTN), generally a part of the European FuseNet collaboration.

How I got to York - my "pre-Gangnam Style" period

But, let's go back a few steps. Try to cast your mind back to the "pre-Gangnam Style" dark ages of Spring 2012. I had just begun my final research project for my physics Master's degree at Oxford, and was riding on an adrenaline high from having visited the Postgraduate Fair in Manchester. The fair was a bit of a waste of time, but satisfying as my lab partner and I managed to solve the tricky Quantum Field Theory assignment on the train there. After an unfruitful interview at Warwick and a promising one at my university's Materials department (also working with FuseNet), I ended up in an interview at York. Fitting, for an institute that is attempting to harness fusion to revolutionise human energy generation - the train I used get there passed directly between two major power stations, whose cooling towers expended clouds of steam on the horizon to the left and right of me.

A quantum-mechanic leap in my interview

My first interview (with the person who would later become my supervisor) went well; I talked about what I'd done previously and explained my Master's project, even whipping out my lab book at one point. My second interview was with a much larger committee, including someone listening in by video link and the director of the YPI. Talking about my varied experience in physics, I was asked what I would do if faced with a pair of doors labelled "Theory" and "Experiment". I joked that I would quantum-mechanically go through both, like the classic Young's Double Slit experiment. I suppose for my impertinence, I was sent to one final interview with an experimental panel.

The day after, I received an offer from my first interview and cheerily accepted. And, five months later, I scraped a First class degree by a margin of less than 1% and hence easily met the requirements to begin my PhD. Before long, I was doing academic courses, labs and group projects designed to train me for a career as a fusion researcher. Along with my fellow PhD students, I learned about the theory, past work, current and future technology of humanity's approach to mastering nuclear fusion.

Predictive plasma model for laser ablation of a solid target

All the while, I've been constructing a collisional-radiative model of a plasma, to attempt to predict the conditions where a solid piece of material is rapidly vapourised by a laser. The immediate applications of my work will have an impact on extremely high frequency lasers, currently used in industry to produce electronics and other products. As with all science, research which was initially directed at one goal - like nuclear fusion - can have benefits for other fields - like the manufacture of car airbags.


Stay tuned for next time, when I hope to bring you news of a high Power Laser conference I will have attended, a scientific paper I am writing and - since I'm listing dubious visions of the future - the worldwide zombie uprising.