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Research Studentship in Solid Mechanics, Materials and X-ray Science

Research Studentship in Solid Mechanics, Materials and X-ray Science

Project: Coherent X-ray Imaging of Nano-scale Defect Evolution in Steels for Fusion Power

3.5-year D.Phil. studentship 

Supervisors: Prof. Felix Hofmann (Oxford Engineering Science) and Dr. Peng Li (Diamond Light Source)

Nuclear fusion power promises a clean, safe and almost inexhaustible energy source. Recent breakthroughs highlight its scientific feasibility. However, to be commercially viable, new materials are needed that can survive the extreme temperatures and irradiation anticipated in fusion reactor for many years. Nano-structured ferritic-martensitic (FM) steels are promising candidates, with a high density of interfaces that act as sinks for irradiation defects. However, these materials are less thermally stable than their coarse-grained counterparts. This is a major problem.

The goal of this important project is to identify the mechanisms that cause microstructural coarsening in nano-structured FM steels. To do this, you will develop and use new coherent X-ray diffraction imaging approaches that allow 3D-resolved nano-scale measurements of lattice strain and crystal defects. You will focus on a technique called Bragg ptychography (BP), that is particularly promising for highly distorted materials. BP will allow you to probe how specific defects and crystallites in nano-structured FM steel evolve at high temperature. Insights from these measurements are essential to formulate strategies for stabilizing nano-structured FM steels and will feed directly into projects at Oxford and UKAEA.

This exciting project will require a substantial amount of X-ray technique development at the I13 beamline at DLS. This includes refining the experimental geometry; devising and implementing new analysis methods; and the use of high performance computing resources. Your time will be divided equally between DLS and the Oxford Engineering Science department. You will be part of a dynamic team working on cutting edge coherent X-ray diffraction techniques and a lively nuclear materials community. There is an excellent offering of seminars, thematic group meetings, and training courses, all presenting opportunities for discussion and collaboration. Further information about Prof. Hofmann’s research can be found at, and additional information about Dr. Li’s work at and the I13 beamline at DLS can be found at .


This studentship is part-funded through the Diamond Light Source and is open to both Home and Overseas students.

Award Value

Course fees are covered at the level set for Home students (c. £8960 p.a.). Overseas students would need to pay the difference between home and international fees themselves. The stipend (tax-free maintenance grant) is c. £18544 p.a. for the first year, and at least this amount for a further two and a half years. 

Candidate Requirements

Prospective candidates will be judged according to how well they meet the following criteria:

  • A first class honours degree in Engineering, Physics, Materials Science or a closely related discipline
  • Excellent written and spoken English communication skills
  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Strong programming background (e.g. Matlab, Python)
  • Enthusiasm for X-ray science and technique development
  • Willingness to spend several weeks per year travelling to central facilities for experiments (costs will be covered)

The following skills are desirable but not essential:

  • Experience using high performance computing resources
  • Knowledge of material defects, crystallography and irradiation damage

Application Procedure

Informal enquiries are encouraged and should be addressed to Prof Felix Hofmann (

Candidates must submit a graduate application form and are expected to meet the graduate admissions criteria.  Details are available on the course page of the University website.

Please quote FH_DLS_MT23 in all correspondence and in your graduate application.

Application deadline: 11 August 2023

Start date: October 2023