Name: Dr Ceri Brenner
Research institution: Central Laser Facility, Rutherford Appleton Laboratories
Department of Physics, University of Strathclyde
Research career length: 4 years since starting PhD
Research Council: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
Location: Didcot, UK
Brief summary of research: High power laser plasma interaction
A-levels: Physics, Economics, Mathematics
AS levels: Further Mathematics, Chemistry
BA Physics, University of Oxford
PhD, University of Strathclyde
Summer placement as a laboratory student at the Central Laser Facility when an undergraduate student
PhD student, University of Strathclyde
Researcher, Central Laser Facility, Rutherford Appleton Laboratories
Laser Specialist, Harwell Imaging Partnership
A new generation of lasers with more energy, power and brightness have opened up possibilities for exciting applications in medicine, security and future energy sources. Though still at the early stages of her career, Ceri Brenner is excited to contribute to frontier research in this field, and derives a great deal of enjoyment in sharing this enthusiasm with young people and members of the public.
My research is in high power laser-plasma interactions, with a particular interest in laser-driven particle acceleration. We can generate very strong accelerating fields in a laser produced plasma that are thousands of times stronger than any standard particle accelerator, but in very small space - from a few thousandths of a millimetre to a few centimetres. These compact, high quality beams have lots of potential uses, including in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers, detection of explosives, illegal drugs and other dangerous substances, and in high-energy particle physics research. The fact that my research can be applied for the benefit of humanity is a major motivator for me, and is also why I have chosen to develop my science communications skills, and really enjoy talking to the public about my work.
I'm an experimentalist, and nearly all of my time is spent doing experiments within an international team of at least six people, for 4-6 weeks at a time. When I'm not working on an experiment, I analyse data and discuss it with my research group, including other students and my supervisors. It feels like a team effort. As a result, I travel overseas quite a lot, both to carry out experiments in other labs, and to attend conferences. My favourites so far have been in Japan, New York and Prague.
I took an interest in laser fusion during my Undergraduate degree. I spoke about my interest to one of my tutors, who had connections at the Central Laser Facility, so I was able to apply there for a summer placement, where I learnt about lasers and plasma physics and discovered what frontier research was really like. I knew that I wanted to carry out postgraduate work in this research field, so I applied for a PhD post. I was always good at science and maths, but it wasn't until my placement that I knew I wanted to learn more about laser plasma physics and laser fusion.
I think researchers develop a number of skills, many of which can be applied to life more generally. These include an ability to tackle difficult questions, to solve problems, think logically and clearly, and approach a task with precision.
Once I have gained my doctorate, I am hoping to find a position that will allow me to gain some experience of research with an industrial link, or to do more science communication with a bit of experimental research as well, so that I can keep a grip on progress in the field.
Update: Since completing my PhD studies, I am now working for the STFC’s Harwell Imaging Partnership, as well as pursuing my research from within the STFC’s Central Laser Facility and have achieved the role that I set out to find.