Marwa Ben Yaala (25) is a Tunisian PhD student studying at the University of Basel. Her work on plasma-facing components is funded by a EUROfusion engineering grant. Marwa speaks Arabic, French, English and German and has completed a diploma in engineering and a master in material science at the European Engineering School of Chemistry, Poly - mers and Materials Science in Strasbourg. Before she started her PhD, she was a scientific assistant at the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP in Dresden. Her university is linked to the Swiss partner of the EUROfusion Consortium, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. (Picture: private)

Marwa Ben Yaala (25) is a Tunisian PhD student studying at the University of Basel. Her work on plasma-facing components is funded by a EUROfusion engineering grant. Marwa speaks Arabic, French, English and German and has completed a diploma in engineering and a master in material science at the European Engineering School of Chemistry, Polymers and Materials Science in Strasbourg. Before she started her PhD, she was a scientific assistant at the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP in Dresden. Her university is linked to the Swiss Partner of the EUROfusion Consortium, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. (Image: private)

How did you come to choose a fusion topic for your PhD?

Along with my background as a material science engineer, my choice of subject was based mainly on my interest in energy research, my concern about the environment and the continuous energy demand. I believe that nuclear fusion, as a safe and sustainable energy source, will be the best way to satisfy the energy needs associated with continued economic growth. That is why I want to participate in making fusion energy a commercial reality by dealing with some challenges concerning the plasma-facing materials.

What made you apply for the EUROfusion Engineering Grant?

At first, I was interested in the University of Basel activities in plasma-wall interaction for fusion, now led by Prof Ernst Meyer, which have been running for more than 26 years. When I started my PhD I asked Dr. Laurent Marot, my thesis supervisor, whether I would be able to join his group on plasma-facing components. It was he who told me then about the EUROfusion programme and its engineering grant. And since I fulfilled the various criteria necessary to apply for it, I sent in my application.

Have you ever thought about working for the world’s biggest fusion experiment ITER?

Working for ITER would be a great opportunity for me, since my future aim is to pursue international research in the field of plasma-facing components and plasma-wall interaction. I seek answers to scientific problems using both experimental and computational approaches. A few weeks ago I was at the ITER site and I had the opportunity to speak to ITER scientists. I presented my PhD programme and my possible contribution. I would say ITER is not an end in itself but a bridge towards building industrialised fusion energy. By producing more power than it consumes, ITER will take fusion to the point where an industrial application is able to provide a new clean, safe and unlimited energy source.

Is a female fusion scientist still something unusual or is this old-fashioned thinking?

It is true that men still dominate the nuclear fusion research field. But, I think this is not a reason to consider the female fusion scientist something unusual. Today, more than ever, the world needs both male and female scientists to solve the expanding energy demand and its environmental impacts. As nuclear fusion is believed to be a safe and clean energy source, it’s the community’s duty to encourage women to take a more active role in the fusion research.

You will be visiting JET, WEST and IPP along with their host institutes. Do you favour any site?

I don’t really have a preference for any one facility. For me the most important thing is to discuss ideas with scientists from different laboratories and learn from their experience. Also, I am really interested in exploring the different facilities, instruments and characterisation as well as new technologies used in the field.