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New world-leading plasma research centre for York

Posted on 21 December 2010

EPSRC-funded York Plasma Institute to provide unique integrated research and education facility for plasma studies

Vice Chancellor Professor Brian Cantor with Professors Brian Fulton and Howard Wilson

The University of York and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have established a partnership to create a world-leading, interdisciplinary plasma research centre.

The £6 million investment over five years will create the York Plasma Institute, with a new purpose-built laboratory, and expand the University's existing programme of hot plasma science research for fusion energy applications to include low temperature plasmas for technological applications.

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. They are used in a wide range of industrial and medical processes, including modifying surface functionality to create biocompatible materials for use in prosthetics, material coatings to improve the resilience of components in harsh environments and for sterilisation of equipment and, potentially, in the treatment of wounds.

The University will appoint three world-class academics to form a new research group which will focus on the science of low temperature plasmas. They will work closely with industry and partners from other universities to improve existing applications and develop new ones. The study of technological plasmas is a broad scientific discipline, bringing together physics, biology and chemistry; the University of York provides an excellent framework for this broad, interdisciplinary research activity.

The new research programme will complement the existing plasma science research at York, which involves the use of extremely high temperature plasmas - hotter than the core of the Sun - to create the conditions where fusion reactions can occur.

Fusion is the process that powers the stars, including the Sun. If reproduced on earth, fusion has the potential to provide a safe, environmentally friendly solution to the world's energy problem. University of York researchers collaborate closely with the national fusion programme at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, as well as other international fusion laboratories.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, Professor Brian Cantor, said: “The York Plasma Institute provides an exciting environment to foster interdisciplinary development of plasma science and technology. It will nurture collaborative programmes between University academics and industry to maximise the value of our research and its impact on society.”

The Institute’s Director, Professor Howard Wilson, added:  "The York Plasma Institute will provide a unique research and education facility in the UK, bringing high temperature plasma studies for fusion energy under the same roof as low temperature technological plasma studies, to exploit synergies between the fields and related disciplines, and drive collaborations with industry"

Dr Andrew Bourne, Head of EPSRC’s Physical Sciences Programme said: "EPSRC is delighted to sponsor this new centre that aims to innovatively integrate research activities from various plasma research approaches from both the major UK research laboratories and international collaborations.  The strategic focus is centred on establishing new cooperation in the emerging technological plasma research area with industry as well facilitating the access of small/medium scale enterprises in the UK to the EU and international fusion research programmes. This has the potential to be of great benefit to the UK.”

The York Plasma Institute will forge links to industry through a dedicated Industry Officer, part-funded by CCFE, who will be appointed to ensure that the science translates to improve existing technological applications and also to develop new uses for, as yet, undiscovered plasmas.

The Industry Officer will also work in partnership with CCFE to help make sure that UK industry is well placed to benefit from the opportunities that the international fusion programme offers, particularly the €10Bn ITER international fusion energy facility under construction in France. The York plasma group plays an influential role in the science preparations for ITER.


Notes to editors:

  • More about York Plasma Physics and Fusion Group at
  • 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 £850m 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.