Drive and material imperfections impacting inertial fusion – plasma strand project

Supervisor: Andrew Higginbotham & Nigel Woolsey (University of York).

Fusion is the process which occurs at the centre of the Sun and is the source of energy that heats and lights the Earth. Our aim is to produce heat and electricity from fusion of deuterium and tritium, isotopes of hydrogen, to form helium and a neutron. This fuel is both abundant and carbon neutral. However, there are many questions, perhaps the most pressing is the necessity of confining an extremely hot and high pressure plasma long enough to exceed energy breakeven by fusion reactions. The National Ignition Facility (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, USA) achieved this in recent experiments using the method of inertial confinement. Here, the fuel is quickly compressed to exceptionally high pressures with the inertia of the fuel confining the plasma long enough to exceed breakeven. The compression process is not perfect because of variation in the properties of the drive and materials that contain the fuel. These variations seed instabilities which spoil the compression, reducing the pressures an experiment can reach and quench the fusion reactions. Materials subject to the high stresses needed for fusion transform solids through exotic warm-dense phases to high-energy density plasma. These transitions are important in the physics of inertial confinement fusion.

During this studentship you’ll have the opportunity to study the response of materials as they are driven by high energy lasers and flyer-plates. We aim to understand how the initial structure of a particular drive or material plays a role in the performance of an inertial fusion experiment. Examples include a comparative study of monocrystalline versus polycrystalline allotropes of carbon, the comparison of laser and flyer-plate driven compression, and instabilities as interfaces between materials accelerate. This work provides opportunities to conduct computer modelling simulations and engage with experiments at synchrotron, X-ray free electron lasers and optical laser systems across the world. Our aim is to combine X-ray diffraction and scattering techniques, with shock and plasma measurements to build a detailed understanding of the early stages of an inertial fusion experiment.

This project will give you the opportunity to develop highly valuable skills. You will be involved in work at the cutting edge of fusion research enabling you to learn advanced computational and experimental techniques. This includes the utilisation of supercomputing and experimental resources to gather and analyse the data produced.

This research project is funded through an academic-industry five-year EPSRC Prosperity Partnership, Amplifi. We work with First Light Fusion, the world’s leading inertial fusion company, Machine Discovery, the University of Oxford and Imperial College London to address some of the most pressing challenges facing inertial fusion. Working closely with both industrial and academic colleagues will give you unique experience solving real-world problems in a high-tech business environment, while developing your expertise in a range of exciting fundamental physics topics.

The project will be mainly based in York, you will have the opportunity to spend time, possibly up to several weeks at a time, at experiments and at First Light Fusion.

This project is offered by University of York. For further information please contact: Andrew Higginbotham ( and Nigel Woolsey (

This project may be compatible with part time study, please contact the project supervisors if you are interested in exploring this.