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New appointments to world-class institute

Posted on 8 June 2011

An innovative £6 million partnership between the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the University of York to create a world-leading inter-disciplinary plasma research centre has gained new momentum with three senior appointments.

A new research team based at the University’s York Plasma Institute will focus on the science of low temperature plasmas, working closely with industry and partners from other universities to look at its technological applications.

Low temperature plasmas underpin many technologies in our lives - TV-displays, mobile phones, computer chips, solar-cells and lighting - and many products would not exist without plasmas. A new exciting field emerging is plasma medicine which could lead to wound healing, cancer therapy, hand sterilizers and cosmetic treatments.

The new team – Professor Timo Gans, Dr Deborah O’Connell and Dr Erik Wagenaars - took up their positions on 1 June. The appointments form part of a partnership between EPSRC and the University which has created a world-leading interdisciplinary plasma research centre, including a new purpose-built laboratory due for completion at the end of this year.

The work of the low temperature plasmas team will complement the existing plasma research at York. This involves the use of extremely high temperature plasmas – hotter than the core of the Sun – to create the conditions where fusion reactions can occur. There are valuable synergies between lower temperature technological plasmas and fusion plasmas that will be exploited to maximise the impact of the work of the York Plasma Institute’s research.

York Plasma Institute’s Director Professor Howard Wilson recently received a Gold award for excellence in the University’s Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Outstanding Achievement. The award recognised his outstanding leadership and innovation in creating the Institute. 

Professor Wilson said: “We are very pleased to welcome such high-calibre academics to the York Plasma Institute. They will play a key role in the success of the Institute, exploiting synergies with their colleagues working with high temperature plasmas and other related disciplines, and driving collaborations with industry.

“By nurturing collaborative programmes between University academics and industry through the Plasma Institute, we will be able to maximise the value of our research and its impact on society.”

Professor Timo Gans has become Chair of Low Temperature Plasmas. Previously a Lecturer at Queens University Belfast, his current research involves using optical diagnostics and numerical computer simulations to investigate the dynamics of transient phenomena in low temperature plasmas. 

He said: “I am very much looking forward to taking full advantage of the unique environment at the York Plasma Institute. Close collaboration with industries will release the full potential of our research focusing on the underlying science of low temperature plasmas for developing control and manipulation strategies towards specific technological applications. These technologies range from plasma nano-fabrication techniques in the semiconductor industry to newly emerging bio-medical exploitations in the health care industry.”

Dr Deborah O’Connell joins the York Plasma Institute as a Lecturer. She previously held an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowship at Queens University Belfast. Her current research interests include fundamental investigations of micro-plasmas and their potential bio-medical applications. These plasmas can be confined to micrometers – the dimensions of living cells, or extended to very large areas – meters. On the one hand allowing very localised surgery, or on the other, treatments of 3-d objects using flexible arrays of micro-plasmas.

Dr Erik Wagenaars also joins the Institute as a Lecturer. His research will focus on developing novel diagnostic techniques capable of studying the physics underpinning the small, highly transient plasmas used in many low-temperature plasma applications. With these new diagnostics the team will create a thorough understanding of how the plasmas work, and how they can be controlled and improved, leading to new plasma-based commercial products.

Notes to editors:

  • A plasma is a gas of charged ions and electrons. It can be relatively cool, such as in a modern television set or a fluorescent light bulb, or extremely hot, such as in the core of the Sun. Technological applications tend to employ cooler, low temperature plasmas.
  • Professor Timo Gans is the new Chair of Low Temperature Plasmas at York. He became a Lecturer of Physics in the Centre for Plasma Physics at Queens University, Belfast in 2006. Before this, he was an Academic Staff Member at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, an EU Marie-Curie Individual Fellow at Dublin City University, and an Academic Fellow at Ruhr-University Bochum. He obtained a PhD in Physics from the University of Essen in Germany in 2001. He has published more than 45 peer-reviewed papers in international journals and has been a regular invited speaker at international conferences, workshops and seminars. Honours include the Plasma Sources Science and Technology Hershkowitz Early Career Award (2010), the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) Young Plasma Physicist Award (2009), the Hans-Werner-Osthoff Award for Plasma Physics (2004), and the Dies Academicus Award of the University of Essen (2001).
  • Dr Deborah O’Connell, is Lecturer in Low Temperature Plasma Physics. Prior to holding a prestigious EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowship at Queens University, she held an EU Intra-European Marie Curie Fellowship. Before this she was a Research Fellow at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany and obtained her PhD from Dublin City University, Ireland.
  • Dr Erik Wagenaars works as a Lecturer in Low Temperature Plasma Physics. He completed his undergraduate and PhD degrees at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. Dr Wagenaars worked as a research scientist at Philips Extreme UV GmbH (now XTREME technologies GmbH) in Germany before moving to York as a postdoctoral research assistant in the Plasma Physics and Fusion group of the Physics Department, working in the field of laser-plasmas for fusion.
  • For further information on the University’s Department of Physics, visit
  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800m a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change.
  • The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via research Councils UK. 


Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

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