A SCIENTIST from Abingdon has joined the likes of Stephen Hawking in being awarded a national prize for his groundbreaking work. Dr Ian Chapman has been named one of the UK’s top young physicists by the Institute of Physics, winning the 2013 Maxwell Medal, given to those who excel early in their career.
The 31-year-old said: “I was genuinely really flattered – when you look down the list of previous winners there are some extremely powerful people in the world of physics.”
The father-of-two works as a fusion researcher at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy.
He is part of a team working on the ongoing JET project working to find a way of using nuclear fusion as a cleaner and virtually limitless source of energy.
Scientists use the JET machine to create miniature stars, 10 times hotter than the Sun, releasing vast amounts of energy in the process. Dr Chapman’s research has discovered ways to stop the JET machine, and future reactors, from breaking.
He said: “We are all trying to make a difference in the world.
“I don’t think it is out of the question that I can still be a researcher when electricity from fusion is put on the grid. I hope my son and daughter will be using fusion energy in their lifetime.”
Each year, three early career awards (the Paterson, Mosely and Maxwell medals) are given to top scientists in the first 12 years of their career. Stephen Hawking received one in 1971.
The chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, Steve Cowley, said: “The award shows [Dr Chapman] is one of the top physicists in the country, which makes him one of the top young physicists in the world.
“He will do wonderful things. I hope he will be one of the generations that sees fusion brought to fruition.”
Professor Paul Hardaker, chief executive at the Institute of Physics, said: “Dr Chapman has made a crucial contribution to the international fusion experiment, one of the most exciting and groundbreaking energy projects under way in the world today.”
Dr Chapman will collect his prize at a ceremony in November.
SEARCH FOR A NEW POWER SOURCE
Dr Chapman works on the Joint European Torus (JET) project at Culham – the world’s largest nuclear fusion experiment.
The machine tests how nuclear fusion reactions could be the world’s best future power source.
In the fusion chamber of the machine, atoms are slammed together, releasing huge amounts of energy which could eventually feed into the national grid.
The hydrogen atoms used can be found all over the world. They would therefore be able to provide the world with power for thousands if not millions of years.
They start off as a gas in JET’s fusion chamber and are heated so much they turn into plasma – the fourth state of matter.
The plasma gets so hot that while it releases this huge amount of energy, it risks cracking and breaking the whole machine.
The machine is so expensive, costing £40m to run each year, that breaking it would be catastrophic and set scientists back years in their quest to prove fusion is a good clean and renewable energy source.
Dr Chapman discovered how to heat the plasma in such a way that it keeps steady and avoids damaging the machine.