By the end of the Delivery Plan period, we will have:
- Continued to preserve excellence in high-quality fundamental science in this research area. This will continue to underpin related areas (e.g. Light-Matter Interactions) but also feed into and inform activities with academia and industry in parts of our wider portfolio (e.g. Energy and Manufacturing the Future), encouraging further interdisciplinary work
- Strengthened links to industry to ensure high impact in many sectors (e.g. energy, defence and manufacturing), with opportunities actively being explored to foster collaborations between researchers in academia and industry
Development of researchers will continue, echoing the amount of training supported in the current portfolio and the wish to have young researchers with particular skills and expertise in this field, which is relevant to the nuclear energy industry, for example. It is also envisaged that support of established research groups will be maintained to retain UK capability.
Researchers will have maintained good working interactions with relevant national facilities, especially the Central Laser Facility (CLF), the Orion Laser at AWE and the upgraded Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST-U) at Culham, reflecting the significant proportion of the community that makes use of them. Sharing of facilities at all levels, from local and national to international, will be important in the constrained capital environment.
The UK has several key research groups working in this area, with a good balance of activity and spread of investments. The majority of work is investigator-led research, but there has been a steady increase in growth of capability which reflects the strength of this research area in the UK.
Outputs from their work contribute to a wide range of sectors, including nuclear energy where researchers are world-leading in inertial confinement fusion (ICF) and magnetic confinement fusion (MCF) (Evidence source 1). Defence, manufacturing and biomedicine have also benefitted (Evidence source 2). Financial support from industry is low however, as many relevant applications for the research are more long-term. Individuals from industry and the research community need to work together to drive technological advances and allow the research to progress so the potential is realised.
There is a robust level of support for training in this area which should be continued and reflects the importance of its input both to numerous other research areas and to several industries. The research remains capital-intensive with significant requirements for specialist equipment and access to national facilities such as the CLF and MAST-U (Evidence source 3), in addition to access to facilities in the US, Asia and Europe, for example. It is recognised that the CLF has played a critical role in the development of plasma-accelerator-based research in the UK (Evidence source 4), while MAST-U has enabled researchers to gain international recognition for advances in fundamental magnetically confined plasma science.
This area is expected to contribute widely to the Prosperity Outcomes, particularly to the following Productive, Connected, Resilient and Healthy Ambitions:
P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies
This research area is expected to aid improvements in industry processing.
C1: Enable a competitive, data-driven economy
Advances in understanding plasma-material interactions are key to chip manufacturing, leading to improvements in data processing capability.
C2: Achieve transformational development and use of the Internet of Things
C3: Deliver intelligent technologies and systems
C5: Design for an inclusive, innovative and confident digital society
Development of lasers for high-speed communications could have an important impact.
R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency
Advances in underlying plasma physics is key to addressing a number of challenges related to fusion energy.
R3: Develop better solutions to acute threats: cyber, defence, financial and health
Improved laser-based communication and infrastructure, together with lasers for defence applications, will make an important contribution.
H5: Advance non-medicinal interventions
This research area can help advance novel treatments for cancer therapy, wound-healing, laser surgery and instrument sterilisation.