York research institute to focus on plasma technologies

A new research centre at York University will help expand research into technology using low-temperature plasma.

The university has partnered with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to establish the £6m interdisciplinary York Plasma Institute over the next five years.

A purpose-built laboratory will help the university grow its existing hot plasma fusion energy research programme to include low-temperature plasmas for technological applications.

The institute’s director, Prof Howard Wilson, said: ‘The York Plasma Institute will provide a unique research and education facility in the UK… to exploit synergies between the fields and related disciplines, and drive collaborations with industry.’

A plasma is a gas of charged ions and electrons. It can be relatively cool, such as in a modern television set or a fluorescent light bulb, or extremely hot, such as in the core of the Sun.

Technological applications tend to employ cooler, low-temperature plasmas. They are used in a wide range of industrial and medical processes, including creating biocompatible materials for prosthetics and for sterilisation of medical equipment.

The university will appoint three world-class academics to form a new research group, which will focus on the science of low-temperature plasmas across physics, biology and chemistry.

The new research programme will complement the existing plasma science research at York, which involves the use of extremely high-temperature plasmas – hotter than the core of the Sun – to create the conditions where fusion reactions can occur.

Fusion is the process that powers the stars, including the Sun. If reproduced on Earth, fusion has the potential to provide a safe, environmentally friendly solution to the world’s energy problem.

University of York researchers collaborate closely with the national fusion programme at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, as well as other international fusion laboratories.

University vice-chancellor Prof Brian Cantor said: ’The York Plasma Institute provides an exciting environment to foster interdisciplinary development of plasma science and technology.

‘It will nurture collaborative programmes between university academics and industry to maximise the value of our research and its impact on society.’

Dr Andrew Bourne, head of EPSRC’s Physical Sciences Programme, said: ‘The strategic focus is centred on establishing new co-operation in the emerging technological plasma research area with industry, as well as facilitating the access of small/medium-scale enterprises in the UK to the EU and international fusion research programmes.’

The York Plasma Institute will attempt to forge links to industry through a dedicated Industry Officer, part-funded by CCFE, who will be appointed to ensure that the science translates to improve existing technological applications and also to develop new uses for, as yet, undiscovered plasmas.

The Industry Officer will also work in partnership with CCFE to help make sure that UK industry is well placed to benefit from the opportunities that the international fusion programme offers, particularly the €10bn (£8.5bn) ITER international fusion energy facility under construction in France.