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Orion laser facility

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Colin -Head of Profession for Physics and Mathematics

How long have you worked at AWE?

I first joined AWE straight from completing a physics degree at the University of Nottingham in 1980. For my first job, I was asked if I would help out for a ‘short’ period working on the HELEN laser facility following the sudden departure of a couple of the team. The rest is history. I moved to work in the academic sector for 23 years working on the VULCAN laser facility before rejoining AWE in 2006 to act as Commissioning Manager/Senior Project Manager on the Orion laser facility project.

What does your role involve?

I work closely with the UK and international academic community to help build and maintain a thriving plasma physics base at AWE; to promote knowledge sharing and to manage the collaborative academic access programme to the Orion laser facility. As Head of Profession for Physics & Mathematics I work closely with professional bodies, principally the Institute Of Physics and the Institute of Mathematics & its Applications, to help support professional development of AWE staff.

What is your previous experience?

I have over 30 years’ experience designing, building and operating large-scale laser facilities for plasma physics research. These facilities are the size of football stadia and hence are the result of a large multidisciplinary team effort. They are designed to achieve, in the laboratory, conditions close to those found at the centre of stars.

What is important about your discipline?

Physics provides the foundations of other areas of research, helping us to understand the fundamental make-up of everything around us.

Who do you work with?

I am very much part of a large multidisciplinary team within the Physics Department at AWE but also work closely with AWE’s Chief Scientist’s office. I also work with leading academics, helping to maintain a vibrant plasma physics research community, through key centres of excellence such as OxCHEDS and CIFS.

What is a typical day like?

There is nothing that I would call a ‘typical’ day. The work is incredibly varied and extremely rewarding. On a day-to-day basis I could be hosting scientific visits by academics to Orion or visiting UK universities to discuss future research interests of benefit to AWE’s programme. I could also be writing scientific review papers or collaborating with scientists in deciding on the next phase of plasma physics experiments. I also act as Chief Editor of an international journal ‘High Power Laser Science and Engineering’, which brings its own rewards working with the broader community.

What projects are you working on?

I work with fellow AWE physicists in managing the provision of access time to Orion for collaborative academic research. Recent experimental campaigns have covered the study of material under Megabar pressures relevant to the conditions at the centre of giant planets, and magnetic reconnection of plasmas relevant to Inertial Confinement Fusion.

Share your views on the importance of research or STEM

Working on Orion, which has an outward facing role, certainly puts you in the spotlight. These types of laser are few and far between and so there is great international interest in getting access to such a facility to conduct state-of-the-art plasma physics research, which is not only benefitting AWE’s programme but also the wider academic community. It is very rewarding when I am invited to international conferences to present the work of the facility or sit on review committees of other facilities around the world. The research is important in its own right, but can be used to fuel enthusiasm in the next generation of scientists who are our future.

What do you think is the biggest global challenge for your discipline?

The biggest challenge for our community is sustainable carbon-free energy generation. Global warming will affect generations to come and the prospect of safe and clean energy production through Inertial Fusion Energy is incredibly exciting although currently elusive.

 

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