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Fellowship, PhD and MSc opportunities

PhD and MSc opportunities

Every year UKAEA aims to host new PhD and MSc projects with UK universities addressing plasma physics, materials science and fusion engineering, providing a range of exciting research opportunities.

The projects range from the theoretical, through computational modelling, to experimental studies. Most students are based at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE), while some are based at the partner university. All projects have a Culham and university supervisor.

Typically starting each October, we run a broad range of PhD and MSc projects with different university departments around the UK. Please check this page for updates and links to specific opportunities.

PhD student

PhD opportunities

Projects now available at our partner universities:

Swansea University, Zienkiewicz Centre for Computational Engineering

Novel machine learning based twin applications in fusion research

Funded by EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership and the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).
Start date: October 2021

The inside of a fusion reactor is one of the most challenging environments known about, with temperatures ranging from the hottest in the solar system (100,000,000 °C at the centre of the plasma) to the coolest (-269 °C in the cryopump) all within a few metres, coupled with electro-magnetic loads and irradiation damage. This has already been achieved for short periods of time at JET, the world’s largest fusion device located at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (UKAEA), UK. But one of the greatest engineering challenges of the 21st century will be to construct a machine that can operate under these extremes routinely and produce commercially viable energy.

To create a fusion reactor, therefore, relevant components must go through rigorous testing before they can be deployed. Due to the challenges associated with testing, any additional information to understand these components would be extremely useful. In the proposed studentship, novel fundamental knowledge will be developed using both forward and inverse machine learning approaches to deliver new digital twin models. These digital twin models will seamlessly integrate both real and synthetic data into high performance deep learning algorithms.

The successful candidate will have a good undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, e.g. physics, engineering or computer science. A postgraduate degree with relevant experience in the topics of this PhD is an added advantage. Previous specialisation in machine learning and/or computational mechanics will allow the student to rapidly start the work. The first year of the PhD will mostly be spent on testing novel machine learning methods for their suitability. The second year will allow the student to move into digital twin design and eventually leading to integration of the model into the workflow at UKAEA in the third year.

Funding

This scholarship covers the full cost of tuition fees and an annual stipend of £15,609 for three years.

There will be additional funds available for research expenses.

How to apply

For information on eligibility criteria and application details, please see https://www.swansea.ac.uk/postgraduate/scholarships/research/mechanical-engineering-epsrc-ukaea-phd-novel-2021.php.

University of Birmingham, Department of Physics

Implementation of a novel nuclear-astrophysics technique for measuring difficult to reach nuclei for fusion

As steel is used as one of the main construction materials for magnetic confinement fusion devices, like ITER and most likely the DEMO prototype power plant, impurities will undergo reactions to produce problematic long-lived products including Nb-94 and Nb-94m, Mo-93, Ni-59, Ag-108m and Ni-63. The reaction cross-sections for isotopes including Nb-94 and Mo-93 are lacking in nuclear data libraries, libraries do not contain any data to separate (n,gamma) and (n,2n) reactions into different isomeric state daughters, possibly because the half-lives of the ground states are so long making this a difficult measurement. This is a more significant issue for Nb-94 because it is likely to provide a much larger contribution to the overall activity of the long-term waste. Therefore, we need to devise experiments which can measure the cross-sections for these isotopes, and other similarly difficult to reach nuclei.

The focus of this PhD would be to devise, test and validate a new technique for measuring the cross-section of very long-lived nuclei which could use the Trojan Horse Method (THM) employed in nuclear astrophysics measurements. This technique is well understood but has not yet been exploited for (n,gamma) reactions, though the required framework is established. This project will involve a mixture of detailed and complex nuclear modelling and the opportunity to perform activation experiments. The PhD student may choose to be based at the UKAEA fusion research centre at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, near Oxford, from the second year onwards.

Funding

This project is fully funded for UK students (42 months). Students outside the UK will need to seek financial support from scholarship programmes.

How to apply

We welcome informal enquiries to t.wheldon@bham.ac.uk and chantal.nobs@ukaea.uk and encourage full applications through the Birmingham University portal: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/courses/research/physics/physics-astronomy-phd.aspx (please put Tzany Kokalova Wheldon as the supervisor and the title as the research topic – for any further clarifications on the application process please contact t.wheldon@bham.ac.uk and chantal.nobs@ukaea.uk directly).

University of Warwick, Department of Physics

Inferring energetic ion physics from ion cyclotron emission from fusion plasmas

Ion cyclotron emission (ICE) is an intense suprathermal electromagnetic signal which is generated by fusion-born ion populations in magnetically confined plasmas. Understanding the physics of fusion-born ions, notably the 3.5 MeV alpha-particles that are produced in deuterium-tritium plasmas, is crucial if these ions are to be exploited to sustain the thermonuclear burn. ICE provides unique insights into this – always provided that the physics underlying ICE is well understood. This presents an intellectual challenge which is underpinned by the interplay of three fundamental characteristics of plasma physics: the signature Alfvén wave; the gyromotion of fusion-born ions in the confining magnetic field; and the collective effects that arise from the long-range nature of the Maxwell-Lorentz system of equations.

This project will involve a mix of: state-of-art high performance computation (HPC), using the widely adopted EPOCH kinetic code; analytical theory; and determining the linkages between current ICE observations and simulation outputs. The PhD student may choose to be based at the UKAEA fusion research centre at CCFE Culham, near Oxford, from the second year onwards. Joint supervision will be provided by Professors Sandra Chapman and Richard Dendy, who have an extensive track record in this area. There is a team-based working environment at CCFE, with several Warwick/CCFE alumni within the “home team” for the ICE topic. CFSA has a record of several dozen successful joint PhD projects with CCFE. The timing of this PhD project is optimal in relation to:

  • Imminent ICE measurements from deuterium-tritium plasmas in JET (“DTE2”) at Culham
  • The current high level of interest in ICE at major fusion facilities worldwide
  • The CFSA-CCFE team’s role as a partner in international experiments on ICE. In 2019 and 2020 we have already published on ICE in the IAEA journal Nuclear Fusion with the flagship facilities in Germany (Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics), Japan (National Institute for Fusion Science) and Korea (National Fusion Research Institute). We are partners in an invited paper with the US team from General Atomics at this autumn’s IAEA Fusion Energy Conference. These collaborations continue, and in addition to future JET DTE2 data will generate interesting and rewarding challenges for the PhD student.

In the longer term, ICE is under consideration as a diagnostic for fusion-born ions in the Next Step fusion experiment, ITER.

Funding

This project is fully funded for UK students (42 months). International students will need to seek financial support from scholarship programmes.

How to apply

We welcome informal enquiries to  and  and encourage full applications through the Warwick Graduate school website: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/physics/prospective/postgraduate/pgintro/resourcesforapplicants.

More information and application details

Fusion research fellowships

Research fellowships currently available at CCFE and partner organisations:

Culham Fusion Research Fellowship (UKAEA)

Applications for 2021 are now closed.

Salary: ~ £34,000 – £37,000 + excellent benefits including outstanding pension scheme

Closing date: annually, closing in December

Are you an outstanding scientist or engineer who has recently completed a doctorate or expects to complete a doctorate in the next few months? 

Do you want to be part of a vibrant research programme to develop nuclear fusion as an energy source for future generations?

Each year the UK Atomic Energy Authority aims to appoint one or two outstanding scientists or engineers who have recently completed a doctorate to a two-year research fellowship in any field of fusion research conducted at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE).

Candidates need to be highly motivated and show initiative. Culham Fusion Research Fellows have a high degree of autonomy and are expected to define their own research programme, which should be aligned with the interests of UKAEA. The quality of the research project proposal, together with the skills and experience of the candidate, are key factors in the selection process. Since academic excellence is one of the selection criteria, it is recommended candidates mention significant prizes or other recognition in their application.

Managed and/or self-directed personal training and career development at Culham and elsewhere will be available and there will be opportunities for conference attendance and involvement in scientific outreach activities. Periods of overseas placements with our collaborators will be encouraged. The appointments will be two-year fixed term staff positions. Successful candidates will be expected to take up their appointments by Summer 2021.

Requirements

In general, successful candidates will have completed their doctorates in the previous five years. Candidates need a good degree in physics, mathematics, materials or engineering science and a relevant PhD, preferably in fusion research.

Application procedure for Culham Fusion Research Fellowships

Applications will re-open later in 2021 and details will be published on this page.

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