Ian Chapman

2020 United Kingdom Award Finalist — Faculty

Ian Chapman

Current Position:
Chief Executive Officer

UK Atomic Energy Authority

Plasma Physics

Recognized for: Research that has solved key technical problems in the world’s largest experiment on fusion energy—a clean and safe form of energy—and his leadership in developing the UK’s national fusion energy programme.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Fusion Energy, Plasma Physics, Design of Tokamak Devices, Fluid Instability, Numerical Modelling


MSc, Durham University
PhD, Imperial College London and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (Advisor: Prof. Tim Hender)
Programme Leader for Stability, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy
JET Task Force Leader, EUROfusion
Head of Tokamak Science, UK Atomic Energy Authority

Research Summary:

Prof. Ian Chapman is a world leader in the pursuit of the practical realization of fusion energy—a clean and safe source of energy generated from nuclear reactions where the nuclei of two lighter atoms (such as hydrogen) fuse into a heavier nucleus (such as helium). Nuclear fusion is the same mechanism that powers the Sun and other stars. Earlier in his career, Chapman had solved several important technical problems surrounding the design of the most promising fusion device—a tokamak. This is a doughnut-shaped chamber, which uses very strong magnetic fields to control the very hot gas (or plasma) of fusion fuels. In particular, Chapman studied the stability and confinement of the hydrogen plasma inside the tokamak. Equipped with a deep theoretical understanding and strong computational skills, he explained the physical mechanism behind several types of plasma instability in the tokamak that could either significantly reduce the energy efficiency or even damage the device. The methods he proposed to improve plasma stability were adopted by ITER—the world’s largest fusion experiment with 35 participating countries—to optimize the design of their tokamak that is currently under construction.

Now as the CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, he is leading the UK’s national research endeavors in advancing fusion experiments and developing related technologies, with the mission of delivering commercial fusion energy to the world. In addition to being part of the ITER collaboration, he has pioneered the UK’s new national fusion project to construct a smaller, more cost effective tokamak with a more spherical shape. This body of work has greatly promoted research on fusion energy, both domestically in the UK and internationally, speeding up progress toward one day delivering fusion energy to society as a practical and reliable carbon-free energy source.

"Dealing with climate change is one of the existential challenges of our times. Fusion offers huge potential to provide carbon-free baseload electricity and the technical advances we are making is bringing fusion closer to reality."

Key Publications:

  1. I.T. Chapman, M.-D. Hua, S.D. Pinches, R.J. Akers, A.R. Field, J.P. Graves, R.J. Hastie, C.A. Michael, the MAST Team. Saturated Ideal Modes in Advanced Tokamak Regimes in MAST. Nuclear Fusion, 2010.
  2. I.T. Chapman, R. Scannell, W.A. Cooper, J.P. Graves, R.J. Hastie, G. Naylor, A. Zocco. Magnetic Reconnection Triggering Magnetohydrodynamic Instabilities during a Sawtooth Crash in a Tokamak Plasma. Physical Review Letters, 2010.
  3. I.T. Chapman. Controlling Sawtooth Oscillations in Tokamak Plasmas. Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, 2011.
  4. I.T. Chapman, W.A. Cooper, A. Kirk, C.J. Ham, J.R. Harrison, A. Patel, S.D. Pinches, R. Scannell, A.J. Thornton, the MAST Team. Three-dimensional Corrugation of the Plasma Edge when Magnetic Perturbations are Applied for Edge-localized Mode Control in MAST. Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, 2012.

Other Honors:

2019Kavli Medal and Lecture, Royal Society
2017Thomas H. Stix Award for Outstanding Early Career Contributions to Plasma Physics Research, American Physical Society
2016Speaker, Royal Institution Christmas Lectures
2015Rosalind Franklin Award Lecture, British Science Festival
2014Early Career Prize, European Physical Society
2013Clifford Paterson Medal and Prize, Institute of Physics
2013Fellow, Institute of Physics
2012Young Scientist Prize in Plasma Physics, International Union of Pure and Applied Physics
2011Cavendish Medal, SET for Britain
2010Culham Thesis Prize, Institute of Physics
2009PhD Research Award, Plasma Physics Division, European Physical Society


In the Media:

BBC – Nuclear fusionis ‘a question of when not if’

The Times ‘Miniature sun’ fusion reactor to be built in the UK

The Guardian / Observer A lightbulb moment for nuclear fusion?

GOV.UK Prime Minister hails ‘world-leading’ fusion research at Culham

The Times UK’s scientists lead race for nuclear fusion

Nature – UK hatches plan to build world’s first fusion power plant

GOV.UK Rising star to lead UK’s fusion energy programme

E&T Magazine – Interview - Professor Ian Chapman, chief executive, UK Atomic Energy Authority

Royal Institution public lecture Fusion: How to put the Sun in a Magnetic Bottle

Royal Institution 2016 Christmas Lectures How Fusion Reactors Control Plasma

UK Atomic Energy Authority