Science and Technology of Fusion Energy (EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training) | University of Oxford
EFDA-JET fusion
An interior view of the JET vacuum vessel, with a superimposed image of an actual JET plasma taken with a visible light camera
(Image Credit: EFDA-JET / CCFE)

Science and Technology of Fusion Energy (EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training)

About the course

The Science and Technology of Fusion Energy EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (Fusion CDT) programme is provided by a collaboration between five UK universities (York, Oxford, Durham, Liverpool and Manchester), several other research organisations including Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, Central Laser Facility, National Nuclear Laboratory, AWE, National Ignition Facility, ITER and Fusion for Energy, and industry such as Frazer-Nash and AMEC. 

The Fusion CDT provides training from world-leading experts in a range of fusion-relevant disciplines: materials science, plasma physics, nuclear physics, technology, laser physics, instrumentation, etc. It will train at least 77 PhD students in disciplines related to fusion energy over five intakes from 2014 to 2018 and for each year a significant number of fully-funded four-year PhD studentships will be available.

Other than the times when you are taking courses as part of the Fusion CDT cohort, students following the Oxford Science and Technology of Fusion Energy EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training programme work, train and study alongside students undertaking the DPhil in Materials, together forming an Oxford cohort of research students in materials.

You will have access to a range of fusion energy facilities across the UK, including the Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the MAST and JET tokamaks at Culham in Oxfordshire, advanced materials research facilities, the Orion laser and high performance computing facilities. International links provide access to many other fusion devices around the world.

The combination of world-leading experts and world-class facilities creates an outstanding training environment for the next generation of fusion scientists - the generation who may exploit ITER, NIF and other international experiments to make fusion energy a reality.

As a student on the Oxford DPhil in Science and Technology of Fusion Energy (EPSRC CDT) programme you will be part of one of the top-ranked materials departments in the world. The vibrant research school consists of around 28 academic staff, 13 Senior Research Fellows, and around 180 research students and 86 post-doctoral researchers. The department's research students are of many nationalities and come from diverse backgrounds, both graduates in the traditional subjects of materials science, physics, chemistry and engineering and also in mathematics, earth sciences and biology.

The programme is normally carried out in four years of full-time study under the supervision of an experienced member of staff. It is examined at the end of the programme by means of a written thesis and an oral examination. A wide range of exciting DPhil projects is available. The first eighteen months is a probationary period during which you undertake various taught courses specific to the Fusion CDT cohort, soon after which, subject to satisfactory progress, students normally transfer to full DPhil status. A second formal assessment of progress takes place later in the programme, normally early in the fourth year. Details of the DPhil programme, including training opportunities (academic courses, research-specific skills and generic transferable career skills) and progression requirements, can be found in the graduate course handbook.

Research interests in the department extend over most branches of materials science, as well as some aspects of solid state physics and chemistry. These include the study of a wide range of materials of relevance in advanced technological applications, including metals and alloys, composites, semi- and super-conductors, polymers, biomaterials, ceramics and materials for quantum information processing.

Much of the research is carried out in close collaboration with industry. World-leading research takes place on:

  • the characterisation of materials, where there is emphasis on electron microscopy and related techniques
  • processing and manufacturing of materials
  • modelling of materials, where there is attention to both structures and processes
  • properties of materials
  • energy materials, including those for batteries, nuclear fusion and photovoltaics
  • quantum information processing, which includes groups working on experimental studies, theory and modelling.

Fusion materials research at the University of Oxford

The plasma-facing components and breeding blanket of any future fusion tokamak will be subjected to one of the most extreme engineering environments possible. Materials will experience temperatures of up to 1200C in steady state and 3300C in transient events, and irradiation with 14MeV neutrons, causing displacement damage, transmutation giving rise to compositional changes, and internal H and He generation, plasma facing surfaces also can have  high erosion rates due to interactions with the fusion plasma. Ideally, the materials should not retain tritium or themselves transmute to long-lived radioactive isotopes. For fusion to be feasible as an economic power source, the materials must be able to survive these conditions, retaining usable thermal and mechanical properties, for five years or more.

Materials of current interest include special “reduced activation” steels, tungsten alloys and composites, molybdenum alloys, copper alloys and silicon carbide.

The University offers a range of projects, both experimental and modelling, on the processing, joining, microstructure, mechanical properties, and resistance to radiation damage of these materials.

Projects will use a range of specialised research techniques, usually in combination:

  • advanced processing, coating and joining methods (mechanical alloying, rapid solidification, spray forming, additive manufacture, friction-stir welding)
  • irradiation of materials by high-energy ion-beams, protons and neutrons.
  • electron microscopy of microstructures, and radiation damage effects, including in-situ irradiations, and field-ion microscopy of radiation damage
  • microanalysis by atom-probe tomography and electron-optical methods
  • X-ray diffraction including use of the diamond light source mechanical testing, including micromechanics, over a wide temperature range
  • computer modelling of radiation damage effects, deformation and microstructural development.

Many projects are carried out in close collaboration with the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy; in the course of projects starting in 2014 and thereafter, the CDT is expected to make use of the newly-commissioned hot cells at the Materials Research Facility at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy.

Research projects supervised by the members of Oxford staff associated with the Fusion CDT are available to applicants for the DPhil in Science and Technology of Fusion Energy (EPSRC CDT) programme. Information on available research projects can also be found at the Fusion CDT Research Areas webpage.

Further information on current research and individual members of staff at Oxford is available via the Materials Science website.

An overview of the provision for Materials research students can be found at the Outline of Provision for Materials Research Students webpage. Also available is Guidance on Supervision Arrangements and an Outline of Some Compulsory Requirements for the DPhil in Materials.

Graduate destinations

There are a number of specialist careers open to Fusion CDT graduates and, more generally, Oxford graduates with a DPhil in Materials are highly regarded by a wide range of employers, including universities, high-tech start-up companies, engineering consultancies, industry (including aerospace, electronics, automotive, steel manufacture, medical and household products sectors), world-famous technology companies, schools and colleges, and the financial and business sectors. 

Related courses

Multiple applications

In applying for this programme, you may submit further applications for up to two of the following associated programmes without paying an additional application fee.

You may only apply to one programme from Group B under this arrangement without paying further application fees.

Group A
Group B
Industrially Focused Mathematical Modelling (EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training)DPhil in Materials
Theory and Modelling in Chemical Sciences (EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training) 

For instructions, see Applying for more than one course in the Application Guide.

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in a suitable science subject; normally this subject would be one of materials science, chemistry, physics or mathematics, but could include other subjects depending on the area of research chosen.

For candidates offering a UK bachelor's degree or UK integrated undergraduate master's degree normally we require an overall grade of at least 65%. As examples of international equivalents to this requirement: for the US system we normally regard a GPA of 3.6 out of 4.0 on a four-year bachelor's programme as equivalent and for the Chinese system we normally regard an overall degree mark of 85% on a four-year bachelor's degree programme as equivalent.

In some countries at least some of the bachelor's degrees are not acceptable for direct progression to a PhD in that country; normally such degrees are not acceptable for entry to this programme unless the candidate also holds or expects to achieve a master's degree with an overall mark equivalent to at least 65% in a UK taught master's degree.

Normally the required qualification(s) must be achieved by the date of commencement of the research programme for which you have applied.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.  

These interviews may be conducted face-to-face or by telephone or video-link, including Skype. Shortlisting for interview is carried out according to the criteria included in the present entry requirements as judged from the candidate’s written application (including references).

Normally, the applications of candidates who are shortlisted for interview will be assessed by at least two members of staff with relevant experience and expertise, and in addition may be assessed by the Department’s Director of Graduate Studies. All decisions to offer a place require approval by the Director of Graduate Studies or deputy.

Publications

Publications are not essential but will be taken into account. Please include in your CV the references and abstracts of any publications you may have in peer-reviewed international journals. 

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

Additional indicators considered when assessing an application against the department's criteria include performance in previous research project(s), the award of national prizes, the award of scholarships, preliminary knowledge of relevant research techniques, and the applicant’s suitability for the research projects in which she or he has expressed interest.

The criteria against which your written application and interview will be assessed are:

  • Appropriate indicators of proven and/or potential: academic excellence, research excellence, originality, ability to absorb new ideas, reasoning ability, creativity of thought, initiative, and capacity for sustained and intense work;
  • sufficient evidence, in the view of the assessors, to suggest the applicant has the academic ability, motivation and commitment to (i) pursue the chosen research programme to a successful conclusion within the required time limits, and (ii) to pursue research in the subject of materials at a high level;
  • the programme of study, including research topic, that the applicant wishes to pursue is well suited to the academic interests and abilities to which they and/or their referees have drawn attention in their application. For some projects this may include the ability to work as part of a team; and
  • sufficient evidence of ability to (i) engage in a scientific or technical discussion in English at a satisfactory level, both verbally and in writing, (ii) understand a reasoned case presented in English and (iii) present a reasoned case in English.

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the standard level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Department of Materials to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Department of Materials and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff
  • Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Department of Materials.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.

It is very important that at the earliest possible opportunity you take steps to meet the University’s standard minimum English language requirement. If you have yet to attain this minimum level any offer of a place we may make to you will be conditional on your achieving the standard minimum requirement. Students who require a visa will not be able to apply for this visa until they have met this and other conditions of their offer. If you do not meet the conditions of your offer by the deadline we set, normally our offer will lapse.

Please note that it can take up to three months to obtain an examination date for IELTS or TOEFL, so it is strongly recommended that all applicants who need an English test apply for one at the earliest opportunity and preferably sufficiently in advance that you would have time to obtain a date for a retake examination should this be necessary. In this respect please note also that the department requires not only a minimum overall score in the English test but also minimum scores in each individual component of the tests.

It should be noted that acceptance on a particular course gives no guarantee of final success, and all research programmes require the student to develop their learning and skills to new levels in order successfully to undertake all the assessment hurdles of a research programme.

Resources

In the UK government’s most recent assessment of research excellence in UK universities, the 2014 REF, Oxford Materials was one of the top-rated materials departments in the country. 34.1 (FTE) academic staff, including several early career researchers (Royal Society URFs, RAEng fellows and similar postdoctoral fellows), were submitted for assessment and 98% of the department's activity was judged to be in the highest categories of excellence - grades 4*(60%) and 3*(38%), respectively ‘world-leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’. 90% of the department's 'impact' was judged to be 'world-leading'.

The department has available excellent and wide-ranging research resources including:

  • a world-class suite of electron microscopy facilities including a JEOL ARM analytical TEM, a JEOL 2200FS aberration-corrected high resolution TEM, and two new Zeiss Merlin ultrahigh resolution SEMs optimised for EBSD and EDX analysis, together with a number of supporting and training instruments. Much of this equipment is installed in the newly-refurbished David Cockayne Centre for Electron Microscopy;
  • acoustic and scanned probe microscopes together with extensive further facilities for characterising materials including, for example, nanoSIMS, XPS and Raman microscopy;
  • advanced sample preparation and micromachining facilities including a Zeiss NVision 40 FIB/SEM and two other FIB instruments;
  • unique microhardness measurement facilities (at high temperatures and at the nm scale);
  • special processing or manufacturing facilities for ceramics, composites, carbon nanomaterials, rapidly solidified materials and devices such as novel batteries;
  • superb facilities for 3D atom probe analysis (including LEAP 3000XSi and 3DAP-LAR); 
  • a new alloy processing and mechanical properties laboratory, for aerospace and nuclear materials; and
  • several parallel computation Linux clusters with InfiniBand interconnects, operated by the Materials Modelling Laboratory, and access to all the Oxford Supercomputing Centre facilities.

The department’s Institute for Industrial Materials and Manufacturing is housed at the University's Begbroke Science Park and has world-class facilities for advanced materials processing and characterisation. A major suite of equipment is available for the characterisation of materials used in micro and nano technology, as detailed on the Oxford Materials Characterisation Service website.

The Begbroke site also houses a number of materials-related spinout companies.

In addition to the excellent central and college library provision, there is a specialist Materials Science Library housed in the department.

Funding

There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

This programme has a dedicated stream of funding, and the majority of students on the programme are funded. Eligibility restrictions apply. Further details can be found on the CDT webpage.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU
(including Islands)
c. £4,250£3,021c. £7,271
Overseas£19,335£3,021£22,356

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this programme that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs.  However, please note that, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page.

How to apply

Having first read the guidance and project descriptions on the Department of Materials website, if you wish to learn more about a specific project please contact the relevant supervisor by email.

Before applying you are strongly encouraged to contact the department's Graduate Studies Secretary for advice and assistance.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

Please include official evidence of your overall mark (%) or cumulative GPA if this is not clearly stated on your transcript.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Please include the references and abstracts of any publications you may have in peer-reviewed international journals. Please do not include full copies of your publications.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
400 words, accompanied by a list of preferred projects and supervisors

A detailed research proposal is not required. Instead, you should provide a single document comprising both:

  • a list of up to five research projects (and the associated supervisors) in which you are interested, in order of preference, selected from the subset of currently advertised projects that are offered by Oxford staff associated with the Fusion CDT (as listed on the CDT webpage); and
  • an outline of your research interests, written in English, that clearly indicates the rationale behind your choice of projects.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, of which at least two must be academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

It is desirable that one of your references is from an academic staff member who has supervised you in a research project.

If you are a current master’s student or have completed a master’s course, one of your referees should be your supervisor or course director on this course. If you do not provide a reference from your master’s supervisor or course director, the department will usually ask you to do so before completing the assessment of your application.

Normally at least two of your references should be from academic staff members who taught or supervised you during your bachelor’s and/or master’s degree programmes. The primary purpose of the three references is to provide the department with evidenced insight into your potential to excel as a research student.