Image: Ernst Fessler  Edmund Highcock is a Post Doc at Oxford University. He investigates ways to eliminate plasma turbulence and was awarded the European Physical Society Plasma Physics PhD award 2014.

Image: Ernst Fessler
Edmund Highcock is a Post Doc at Oxford University. He investigates ways to eliminate plasma turbulence and was awarded the European Physical Society Plasma Physics PhD award 2014.

Edmund, congratulations on winning the EPS Physics PhD award! What is your work about?

I am working on transport within the core of a fusion plasma. The loss of heat due to turbulence is a major issue on the way to a fusion reactor. In the last 15 years or so, a lot of work has been carried out on flows in the plasma and especially on those flows that are faster in the centre than at the edge. We have found that those flows can reduce the turbulence level. I was looking at the effect of these flows, asking whether they could be used to eliminate the turbulence and under what circumstances this might work.

What are you doing now, after your PhD?

I have a European two-year researcher fellowship sponsored by EUROfusion and will continue working at the University of Oxford as a post doctoral researcher.

How did you come to fusion research?

Well, I had always been interested in fusion as an undergraduate. Imperial College, which is where I started my PhD, had an open day on fusion and plasma physics PhDs. I went there and found my future PhD position.

How did you hear about fusion in the first place?

In Cambridge, where I did my undergraduate studies, there was no fusion or plasma physics. I read about fusion research in media like New Scientist and I knew about the laboratory in Culham. But I had no idea that one could actually do a PhD in fusion until I met a friend who told me that he was going to that open day at Imperial College.

Did you find the expectations you had in your PhD work fulfilled?

Well, I remember that I wanted to do a lot of mathematics and that I learned quite quickly that I enjoyed computational physics more. I also found that, because plasma is in general very complex and chaotic, you cannot only use mathematics to get answers about how it behaves. You need computational physics to solve these questions.

What do you like most about your current job as a Post Doc?

I very much like being able to direct my own research, and I appreciate the fact that the Culham fusion laboratory is just 10 minutes down the road. It makes it very easy to talk to the people who actually run the experiments. It is great to work with students, to help them and to watch them making progress. I suppose what I like most is that every single day I decide what I need to do and I do it. There is no routine, because whenever you solve a problem you never need to solve that one again. So every day you have to think about a new problem, you never do the same thing twice.

What are your long-term goals? Do you have a dream-job for the far future?

At this moment, I am hoping to become either a university professor and have a large group working in plasma physics or to be working as head of theory in a major fusion laboratory. Who knows, that’s a long way away.