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PhD Studentship: Irradiation Behaviour of Advanced Nano-Structured Alloys for Fusion Energy, with UKAEA

University of Birmingham - School of Metallurgy & Materials

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Birmingham
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £15,285 tax-free stipend
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 23rd June 2022
Closes: 22nd December 2022

This project is co-sponsored by UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) / Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) and co-supervised by Dr David Bowden.

The research group investigates new alloys for extreme environments from fusion/fission reactors to aerospace gas turbines and concentrated solar power. This involves the design of fundamentally new alloys by computational methods; production through arc melting, powder metallurgy or additive manufacturing; characterisation using advanced electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction techniques; mechanical testing using macro/micro-mechanical methods and failure investigation; and environmental behaviour under oxidation/corrosion and irradiation damage.

Commercial fusion power plants are targeting higher operating temperatures to improve plant thermodynamic efficiency. This is associated with the use of coolants such as liquid metals and molten salts, also with greater heat capacities compared to conventional coolants such as water and CO2. Such plants are proposed to operate at temperatures above 600°C. However, current reduced activation ferritic martensitic (RAFM) steels proposed for fusion plant structures suffer from severely reduced creep lifetimes above ~550°C, as well as adverse mechanical performance induced through neutron irradiation damage (up to 35 displacements per atom (dpa) per year).

New castable nanostructured alloys (CNAs) and oxide dispersion strengthened (ODS) steel variants are being developed by UKAEA for use in nuclear fusion reactors. In parallel, body-centred cubic (bcc) superalloys & nanostructured alloys are being developed at the University of Birmingham. These UKAEA & UoB materials comprise fine dispersions of nanoparticles, simultaneously improving creep lifetimes and irradiation damage tolerance. A key aspect of the alloys’ performance is the synergistic effect between irradiation and plasticity - particularly those arising over long durations, such as creep effects. However, these interactions are poorly understood, and rarely tested simultaneously. Therefore, understanding this synergistic interaction is a cornerstone to enable development of enhanced nanostructured alloys in the future.

This project will utilise the new NNUF 2a in-situ cyclotron facility at the Birmingham, which includes synergistic proton + loading experiments at elevated temperatures that will be used for the nanostructured alloys developed at UKAEA and UoB. This will help us to elucidate interaction mechanisms between two types of damage and how to optimise microstructures to mitigate deleterious effects arising from this. This project will also inform the development of alloys that evolve enhanced performance microstructures during operation in a fusion plant - coined as thermomechanically adaptive alloys. Such alloys could overcome issues commonly faced by nanostructured steels at start of life, which involve challenging joining and processing operations, and potential over-aging, particularly at joints, that can lead to embrittlement.

The candidate should have a 1st class Undergraduate or Masters degree (or equivalent) in Materials Science, or related discipline. A background in microstructural characterisation and/or mechanical testing would be advantageous.

To Apply please provide: (1) A curriculum vitae (CV), (2) A Cover Letter summarising your research interests and suitability for the position, and (3) The contact details of two Referees.

Please send to Dr Sandy Knowles - a.j.knowles@bham.ac.uk 

www.birmingham.ac.uk/ajknowles

A funded 3.5-year UK PhD studentship is available in the group of Dr Sandy Knowles within the School of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham, with a tax-free stipend of £15,285 per year.

Applications open all year round.

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