Thermal conductivity measurements in warm-dense and high-energy-density matter – plasma strand project

Supervisor: Nigel Woolsey (University of York)

High energy density and warm dense matter science is the study of material properties at extreme high pressures such as those that can occur in a fusion experiment, in the cores of Earth-like and larger planets as well as virtually any stellar object. In inertial confinement fusion, minimising the mixing of materials used to manufacture a capsule, a thin spherical shell holding the fusion fuel, and the fusion fuel is essential to achieving ignition. High-resolution simulations suggest that mix between the capsule and fuel reduces with higher thermal conductivity, yet high thermal conductivity increases energy losses from the hot spot, the region where fusion ignition occurs. Currently, the physics of thermal conductivity at the conditions found in an inertial fusion experiment is uncertain, and this adds the challenge of designing future inertial fusion experiments. Also, uncertainties such as these and those associated with other transport quantities such as viscosity and resistivity, impact on our understanding of planetary science including the evolution of Earth’s core-mantle interface. Understanding transport at this interface is fascinating as this powers our geo-thermal dynamo and terrestrial magnetic field.

With this project you have the opportunity to use short pulse optical lasers and x-ray free electron lasers (XFEL) to heat and then measure plasma properties across material interfaces. This will involve differential heating across an interface to bring two materials into the warm dense matter phase. As these phases are highly transient they require the use of innovative measurement techniques. On establishing a steep temperature gradient, we’ll use optical interferometry, polarimeter and spectroscopy methods to watch and interpret how thermal transport across these materials evolves in time.

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 experimental and computational techniques to acquire, utilise and analyse large quantities of data giving you experience of a broad range of research-level techniques.

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 with many opportunities to travel for experiments, collaboration meetings of industrial and academic partners and conferences.

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.