Andrew Thornton is a staff scientist at CCFE. He works on MAST and studies the mitigation of plasma edge instabilities (ELMs) by investigating how magnetic perturbations affect the heat loads and fluxes that these instabilities deliver to the surfaces inside the tokamak.

Andrew Thornton, young face of fusion

(picture: Jo Silva)

How did you come to fusion research?

I came to fusion because I enjoyed plasma physics. I happened to pick plasma sources as a project for my third year at university in Manchester. It was great fun and I did another one the following year. Eventually I approached my supervisor about a PhD. He said I should get involved in the UK fusion programme and suggested I apply to the University of York to do a PhD at CCFE. So I joined the University of York and did my PhD, based at CCFE, on disruption mitigation. Had I stayed in Manchester, where I did my undergraduate studies, I would have still done a PhD in plasma physics, but not in fusion.

What challenges do you think need to be solved for fusion to be a potential energy source?

Well, I think that in order to get there, you need to deal with transient events such as the instabilities that I investigate. If we can solve these, then we are on the way to achieving power generation and energy from fusion for mankind. I think it is just a matter of making progress along the road until we get there and that is exactly what my work is about.

What are your next aims in your work?

Well, we are upgrading MAST at the moment, installing a new divertor we’ve made, the Super-X divertor. I am looking forward to see what happens in a few years time and to see how that develops over the next ten years.

Was does it mean for you to work in an international environment?

It makes CCFE an interesting place to work. We have a lot of people from abroad who come to MAST or to JET, which we collaborate with as well. It’s interesting to see how other people do their work. I think during the shutdown of MAST I will have more opportunity to look at other machines.

What do you like most about your job?

It’s always nice when you have a good day, when you were expecting something or you wanted to try to find something in an experiment and you succeed. Or when you’ve worked for a long time for a piece of equipment, installed it, its up and running and you get the first bit of data from it. The first glimpse of something you had not seen before, that’s really exciting.