Project title: Multiscale modelling of precipitates in zircaloy cladding.

Supervisors: Dr Daniel Balint, Dr Mark Wenman and Prof Adrian Sutton                                                              

Project description:

Zirconium alloys are used as fuel cladding materials for nuclear reactors. Water inside pressurized water reactors corrodes the metal and the hydrogen left lingering in the matrix has a major effect on these alloys due to its low solubility. Zirconium hydride precipitates grow in the metal and lead to embrittlement, they also effect the solubility of hydrogen at different temperature histories. I work with discrete dislocation simulations which are being developed to study the effect of a) precipitate growth on the dislocation structure, and b) the effect that hydrogen atmospheres have on the mobility of dislocations.

Research highlights:

  • Talk at NPL (December 2010)
  • Talk at Rolls Royce Meeting at Imperial College London (February 2011)
  • Co-organiser of: Hermes 2012, an international summer school for multiscale materials simulation and science coommunication (2011-2012)
  • Talk at the Universities Nuclear Technology Forum (April 2011); Prize for best presentation which includes cash prize and publication in Nuclear Futures Magazine
  • Poster at E-MRS conference (May 2011)
  • Research visit to Max Planck Institut fur Eisenforschung, Dusseldorf, to collaborate on PhD research (February 2012).
  • Poster presentation at ADIS (Ab initio Description of Iron and Steel) Workshop in Tegernsee (April 2012).
  • Poster presentation at 17th  ASTM International Symposium on Zirconium in the Nuclear Industry, in Hyderabad, India (February 2013).
  • Other activities
    - Participant at BBC Academy Expert Women training day at BBC White City, after securing a place out of 2000 applicants (January 2013).
    - Attended Sense about Science workshop on science and the media.
    - Work within the Materials Department alongside Dr. Andrew Horsfield, on outreach activities for visiting school children.
    - Work with exscitec delivering materials lab demonstrations such as the Charpy Impact Test and the rubber-glass transition.
    - Co-chair of Hermes 2012 and a founding member of HermesAcademy.


Outreach has played a significant role in my entire university experience, beginning from transferrable skills training courses at St Andrews where I gave presentations on the theory behind the fluctuation theorem, all the way through to present day where I regularly work alongside A-level students giving demonstrations during visiting days in the RSM, as well as assisting them with writing personal statements for UCAS applications.

One key demonstration which I find both fun and elegant in its explanation of physical properties of metals is the Charpy Impact Test. In this experiment one can build up an understanding of the concept of ductility and strength, as well as plastic deformation and its dependence on temperature and crystal structure.

On a more general level I have visited EPSRC on their open days and have given demonstrations related more closely to my work on materials theory and simulations. Furthermore I have given an invited talk on my research on the integrity of nuclear materials at the National Physical Laboratory.

I co-chaired the Hermes 2012 Summer School in Materials Modelling and Science Communication. This initiative was led by students from inception to execution. I carried out the search for sponsorship and struck up a collaboration with both Unilever and the Royal Society of Chemistry, whose funding enabled us to invite scholars from developing nations to attend the event at Windsor. A total of 60 students from around the globe were in attendance, along with a twenty-strong team of student organisers and facilitators from across the London Universities and also the science communication and media industry. During the school, teams of students produced 8 videos explaining various materials related phenomena to a general audience, based on talks from 4 masterclasses from world class researchers. This activity made for an excellent exercise in communicating science, developing a unique training programme, securing industry sponsorship and collaboration, and also the management of a large-scale project with a budget of approximately £25,000.

Hermes 2012 has inspired more students from within the TSM and also former participants to continue work within science communication and remain in contact today. Furthermore a new team of students has taken on the challenge of planning Hermes 2014, under the newly founded banner of HermesAcademy.

During collaboration with the Royal Society of Chemistry I worked alongside their PR team to launch an international competition on the Mpemba effect, the phenomenon where hot water sometimes freezes faster than cold water. The competition was featured on national and international newspapers, both online and in print. The public were asked for an explanation that was both scientifically sound, but also creatively and effectively communicated. The competition received an overwhelming amount of attention, with around 22,000 entries. I gave a series of interviews on the BBC's World at One show, as well as assisting and interviewing in a Channel 4 news story on the competition. A radio interview is linked here.

Most recently I was awarded a place at the BBC Academy's Expert Women training day, one of 30 in attendance after 2000 applications. The day consisted of radio and on-screen interviewing, a piece-to-camera workshop, a networking session and also a panel session with various members of the media industry. This blog post gives details of the purpose of the training day, and also some of the lessons learned.