Physics underpins most technological advance and as a result, has a key role to play in addressing the looming energy crisis. Whilst many of our research programs contribute to this effort, there are three principle areas in which clean energy research undertaken within the School.
Fusion Power: The basic principle of a fusion reactor is to heat a mass of hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, to many millions of degrees causing them to fuse together into helium releasing vast amounts of energy in the process. Fusion is attractive because it generates vast amounts of power without any greenhouse emissions or long-lived radioactive waste. The School hosts Australia's H-1 toroidal stellarator National Facility, which although on a smaller scale than prototype reactors such as ETA, offers excellent flexibility in its configuration. H1 is particularly suited to the development of advanced diagnostic instrumentation some of which has been employed on large-scale reactors overseas.
The School also has a research program focused on the development of plasma-based nanotechnologies to create highly efficient fuel cells. These cells use only 20% of the platinum of conventional cells and may represent a crucial step on the road to clean transport.
Multi-layer solar cells manufactured from compound semiconductors such as gallium arsenide have the potential to offer greatly increased efficiency over conventional silicon cells in certain applications. As part of our wider research program in the growth and fabrication of III-V semiconductor devices, the School has an active program in the application of these compounds to solar power generation.
Selected research highlights
Potential student research projects
You could be doing your own research into fusion and plasma confinement. Below are some examples of student physics research projects available in RSPE.
Please browse our full list of available physics research projects to find a project that interests you.
Datamining techniques extract information from H-1 essential to understanding instabilities that threaten the viability of fusion as the ultimate clean energy source.
At large amplitude these bursty energetic particle driven fishbones have been observed to evolve into long-lived "helical" structures in several tokamaks, notably the Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. In this project we investigate the role of energetic particles during the transition from bursting fishbone to a long-living mode.
Using a fine beam of electrons, trace the magnetic field lines in H-1, to investigate changes in magnetic geometry, unusual configurations and transition to chaos.
A new model, multiple relaxed region MHD, has been developed to describe magnetic islands and chaotic fields in toroidal magentic cofinement. This project would extend that model to include toroidal flow.