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Understanding Novel Tungsten High Entropy Alloys Ductile-Brittle & Irradiation Behaviour for Fusion, with UKAEA STEP

   School of Metallurgy & Materials

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  Dr S Knowles  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

A 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. This project is co-sponsored by UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) / Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) and co-supervised by Dr Chris Hardie. 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. Nuclear fusion offers the prospect of large-scale low carbon energy with no long-lived radioactive waste.

Over 50 years of worldwide research to overcome the significant technological challenges is culminating in ITER (, currently under construction in Cadarache, France to be completed by 2025. In this, 50 MW of input heating is anticipated to output 500 MW of fusion power from a 150 million°C plasma sustained for up to 1,000 seconds, which will demonstrate the commercial potential of fusion power.

The materials used to construct such reactors are exposed to extreme conditions in terms of temperature, heat flow and plasma ablation as well as neutron irradiation. This is despite the highly sophisticated magnetic confinement of the fusion plasma used to shield the reactor’s physical components and materials. The leading plasma facing material to withstand such temperatures is tungsten, the highest melting point metal. However, tungsten exhibits a brittle to ductile transition temperature (DBTT), and also suffers from irradiation embrittlement.

Presently, methods for measuring DBTT require a large number of relatively large specimens, which adds major costs and limits innovation. This project would explore methods of measuring DBTT from small volumes of material using advanced nanoindentation, small punch testing, and micromechanics. This also allows the testing of ion irradiated material in which the damaged volume is limited, and the testing of neutron irradiated material where fracture test specimens are limited in number or not available. Such methods also allow the rapid screening to aid in the design & development of next-generation alloys, whilst understanding fundamental material properties that can be used in the development of advanced material models for simulations.

The project builds from an existing collaborations between UKAEA and UoB on W alloys and high entropy alloys, studying the alloys for DBTT, and using the findings to instruct design and production of new improved alloys. Further, samples would be proton/neutron irradiated using the UoB NNUF ( irradiation facilities to evaluate DBTT response.

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 project supervisor, Dr Sandy Knowles at [Email Address Removed] ( 

Funding Notes

Funding for UK students includes tuition fees and a tax-free ‘stipend’ of £15,609 per year for your living costs, which is paid in monthly instalments.


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