Shock-Augmented Ignition Approach to Laser Inertial Fusion – plasma strand project

Supervisor/s: Nigel Woolsey (University of York), Robbie Scott (STFC-RAL-CLF)

Fusion is the process which occurs at the centre of the Sun and is the source of energy that heats and lights the Earth. Laser-fusion is an approach to recreating the fusion process on Earth ultimately to generate heat and electricity. The fusion fuel, deuterium and tritium isotopes of hydrogen, is both abundant (although tritium must be manufactured) and carbon neutral. Last year the National Ignition Facility in the USA, using lasers to quickly compress a deuterium and tritium plasma to exceptionally high pressures, was the first experiment to exceed breakeven. In this experiment more energy was released from the experiment than was used to drive it. This scheme, called indirect drive, uses lasers to create an X-ray source which drives a uniform implosion of a near-perfect millimetre-scale spherical shell containing the fusion fuel. This was one of the scientific highlights of 2022.

In this PhD you’ll have the opportunity to study and develop ideas to make laser-fusion experiments more efficient by reducing the size of the laser needed to drive an experiment and increasing the fusion energy liberated from an experiment. The challenge is to balance a number of interrelated and competing physics processes that lead to inefficient implosions and drive instabilities that spoil the near-perfect symmetry we need. One approach is shock augmented ignition, where lasers are used to drive compression of fusion fuel at velocities lower than those we normally use. This helps suppress problematic hydrodynamic instabilities. As the imploding fusion fuel approaches peak compression, a rapid rise in laser-power forms a very strong shock. This shock enters the fusion fuel and collides causing temperatures to exceed the thermonuclear threshold. The lower velocities lead to a more efficient experiment yet the laser intensity required by the strong shock stimulates additional instabilities and inefficiencies. The shock augment approach suppresses these instabilities by reducing the laser power during compression and just prior to the rapid rise in laser-power needed for the strong shock. This improves the all important efficiencies.

This project will give you the opportunity to develop highly valuable skills in computational and experimental laser-fusion physics. 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.

The project will be shared between York and STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratories (Oxfordshire), and will likely involve stays particular to the USA of one to several weeks at a time.

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

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