Fusion Energy MSc Lecture Courses

Students take six core courses in fusion and plasma physics and two of a selection of optional courses.

Plasma Physics for Fusion - Term 1

Fusion, whether by inertial confinement or magnetic confinement, requires deuterium and tritium to be heated to such high temperatures that the electrons are stripped from the ions. The resulting conducting gas is called a plasma. Plasmas are common-place around the universe so the topic of plasma physics is important in many branches of science including astrophysics and solar physics, as well as having industrial applications.

The basic plasma physics principles will be introduced through a combination of physical pictures and mathematical analyses, often using examples from fusion to provide specific applications.

Inertial Confinement Fusion - Term 1

A successful fusion reactor must confine the fusion fuel to maintain the thermonuclear reaction for sufficiently long that more energy is produced than was needed to start the reaction. The inertial confinement scheme involves the compression of tiny amounts (milligrams) of fuel to a thousand times solid density and uses the inertia of the fuel itself to provide the confinement. We will consider how inertial fusion may be achieved, and cover topics such as laser plasma interactions, dense plasmas, hydrodynamic implosion and instabilities, radiative energy transfer, nuclear fusion ignition and burn propagation. The students will be exposed to the most recent ideas and concepts in the field including hot spot, shock and particle-driven fast ignition.

Plasma Diagnostic Techniques - Term 1

Much of experimental fusion research is concerned with the development of "diagnostics" (measuring instruments) to provide information on key plasma parameters. We will introduce the basics of diagnostic systems used in fusion research, and will demonstrate how advances in diagnostic development have led to an increased understanding of many outstanding problems in plasma physics. The emphasis will be on the underlying physical principles of each diagnostic and how the complex interactions within fusion plasmas can be used to determine their fundamental properties. As well as describing the physical principles and the hardware required for a given measurement, we will also consider methods of the data analysis used for each technique. Case studies of state of the art diagnostics will be used to illustrate the fundamental principles and we will conclude by considering diagnostic developments that are necessary for next-step devices such as ITER.

High Performance computing (optional) – Term 1

The aim of this module is to show how the historical developments in high performance computing have come about, how these impact on current technologies, how best to utilise these technologies for numerically intensive calculations, and what future developments are likely. The lectures will be supplemented by practical workshops where some of the key principles will be put into practice.


Astrophysical Plasmas (optional) – Term 1

Plasma is made up of electrons and ions, and these particles respond to magnetic and electric fields that fill much of space between the interior of the Sun to the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere and beyond. The module will start with a description of astrophysical plasmas and an introduction to basic plasma physics and gas dynamics. This introduction is followed by a discussion of the dynamics of the interstellar medium, the processes that heat and cool interstellar medium, and the effects of stellar winds, shocks, and jets. These processes are presented in terms of a magneto-hydrodynamic plasma. This leads to the discussion of magnetic fields, the acceleration of cosmic rays and an energy budget of the interstellar medium. Finally, we discuss the use of laboratory plasma in the study of fundamental plasma processes that occur in occur in astrophysical plasmas. The approach is to identify and use dimensionless scaling of plasma models to illustrate how the enormous astrophysical scales are reduce to those typical of an experiment. This then leads to a discussion of current research.

Statistical Methods in Data Analysis (optional) – Term 1

This module aims to convey the understanding and experience in the use of statistical methods in physics necessary for unbiased evaluation of data (either experimental or theoretical). The module introduces advanced methods in data analysis, which includes areas of Maximum Likelihood, fitting methods, and confidence regions.

Fusion Technology - Term 2

A key step in developing fusion as a viable source of electricity production is the development of reactor technologies to exploit the energy produced in burning plasmas. This complex subject encompasses a range of science and engineering disciplines, including materials science, physics, optical, electrical and mechanical engineering. Topics include materials damage and activation (which consider the effects of radiation on reactor materials and optics assemblies), tritium handling and breeding (including possible breeder blanket designs, advanced fuels, and strategies for controlling tritium retention within the reactor), inertial confinement driver technologies and target manufacturing processes, and auxiliary reactor components such as specialist heating systems for magnetic confinement fusion.

Magnetic Confinement Fusion - Term 2

A tokamak is a device that confines a toroidal plasma using a magnetic field. This topic addresses the plasma physics specifically relevant to tokamaks and other toroidal confinement devices. Such a plasma needs to be stable, so we will study which waves can be excited in a plasma, which of them are likely to lead to instabilities, which of these can be tamed, and which determine performance-limiting boundaries. A fusion plasma needs to be hot, so the topics of current drive and heating will be covered. The heat, once injected into the plasma, needs to be kept there, so we will develop an understanding of how heat is transported around the plasma, as a consequence of both coherent modes and also turbulence. The particular challenges for ITER will be discussed.

Advanced Plasma Physics – Term 2

The extended nature of the dominant Coulomb force between the particles in a plasma ensures that the behaviour is markedly different to that of gases where the forces are short range. As a result plasma has two distinct dynamic patterns associated with correlated long range motions - collective effects - and fluid-like flow – magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). After an introduction to these dynamics, an introduction to high energy density plasmas will be presented followed by an introduction to plasmas of technological application. 

Radiation and Matter (optional) – Term 2

An introduction of the basic features of lasers is first given leading to a more general discussion on the interaction of light with atoms. The properties of laser cavities are investigated, leading to a description of the stable operating range for cavities and the associated mode structures. The quantum mechanics of the atom-radiation interaction are considered in the semi-classical limit (treating the radiation field classically) to determine transition probabilities. Some of the spectroscopic background for the description of plasma emission processes important in astrophysical and laboratory plasmas is presented.