Matthew Topping

PhD Student, Nuclear

Matthew Topping

I wanted to pursue a career in research and completing a PhD is an important step in that line of work. I also enjoyed the research projects that I was a part of during my undergraduate degree.

Background

I completed an undergraduate masters in chemistry at the University of Manchester and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It is one of the most respected institutes in the world when it comes to research and the facilities in the materials science department are excellent.   I study a range of zirconium alloys that are used in the nuclear industry. Zirconium alloys are mainly used in the fuel assemblies and during irradiation they deform via irradiation induced growth. This growth is linked to microstructural evolution and the development of dislocation loops on certain crystallographic planes.

Research

My research focuses on identifying these dislocation loops in proton-irradiated material using TEM and XRD. The aim is to understand how different alloying elements affect these dislocation loops. This will provide vital information that will be considered in future alloy design.

I really enjoy being involved in researching an exciting topic with the potential of being involved in the solution to the problem. I also like the freedom a PhD student has to develop their work and design experiments. 

My project is funded by National Nuclear Laboratories. Rolls Royce, Westinghouse, EDF and others also fund the research group I am part of.  This means we have frequent contact with our industrial partners and present our work to them.  I also attend conferences to present my work to other researchers in the field to share information and swap ideas.   I work along side a number of other PhD students on a daily basis.  PhD students work together closely and support each other. I also interact with my supervisors regularly and provide updates on my work. These updates are a good way to monitor the progress of the project and good ideas are usually generated from such meetings.

Future

I hope that the work I carry out during my PhD and beyond will be used by the nuclear industry to understand what effect different alloying elements have on irradiation-induced growth.

A ‘game-changer’ would be the development of a new alloy (to be used as fuel cladding in a nuclear reactor) that did not succumb to irradiation damage. This would allow the nuclear fuel to be used at higher burn ups than is currently used meaning nuclear energy would be more efficient and potentially lead to cheap energy prices.

I would like to pursue an academic career so after my PhD I will look for a postdoctoral role.

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