Philosophy

Multiscale modelling, uncertainty and inductive risk. Policy-making and challenges surrounding fusion energy

Call for applications - Fully funded PhD Studentship: “Multiscale modelling, uncertainty and inductive risk. Policy-making and challenges surrounding fusion energy”.

Overview

The University of Edinburgh and the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) are seeking a doctoral student for a jointly funded Doctoral Award “Multiscale modelling, uncertainty and inductive risk. Policy-making and challenges surrounding fusion energy”. The project will be supervised by Michela Massimi (Professor of Philosophy of Science, Edinburgh), and Chris Waldon (STEP Deputy Director, UKAEA), with Fulvio Militello (Director for Tokamak Science and MAST-U) and William Morris (UKAEA Chief Scientist) as part of the supervisory team.

This research project addresses three key methodological-philosophical questions central to debates about scientific modelling in general, and with fusion energy research as a particular case study:

  • How to extrapolate data when modelling systems (in this case plasma) across different energy and spatial scales?
  • How to handle the inevitable epistemic uncertainties involved in such multiscale modelling?
  • How to factor in inductive risks and what values should guide design decisions for responsible policy-making in this sensitive area?

The project is a unique opportunity to foster synergistic interactions between the humanities and the sciences at a crucial juncture when energy demands and global warming are accelerating the need to explore alternative carbon-free forms of energy.

The UKAEA’s strategic goal is to advance fusion energy and to position the UK as a leader in the sector. Research in the methodological-conceptual challenges of multiscale modelling, uncertainties, inductive risk and values in design decisions sits squarely within the remit of the UKAEA current efforts to design a prototype fusion energy plant by 2040 (STEP programme).

This project will equip the research student with exceptional skills training opportunities in a cutting-edge area at the intersection of philosophy, physics, engineering, industry and government.

We warmly encourage applications from candidates with a strong background in philosophy of science and an interest in engaging with physics and engineering. Candidates with an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences (broadly construed) are also very welcome to apply as long as they meet the PhD entry requirement of having a Master degree in Philosophy.

Please note: candidates of any disciplinary background do not need to have any experience or requisite knowledge of fusion and associated technical and physical challenges. The requisite knowledge will be acquired through engagement with the UKAEA as a co-sponsor of this PhD studentship. The PhD studentship will commence on 01 April 2023.

Research Project Details

Scientific models have been at the centre of a flourishing literature in philosophy of science over the past four decades. Philosophers have been asking questions about what a model is, and what models are for. In recent times, renewed attention to a variety of scientific practices has led philosophers to explore more specific foundational and methodological questions concerning specific modelling techniques. One of the most fascinating and pressing issue concerns multiscale modelling: how to model systems that span across different scales (be they temporal scales, energy scales or similar).

This PhD studentship is for a project dedicated to multiscale modelling for fusion energy. With the Paris agreement and the renewed COP26 commitment to net zero emission by 2050, the search for carbon-free alternative sources of energy is more urgent than ever. However, modelling the behaviour of plasma inside a tokamak (i.e. the machine whose vast magnetic fields should recreate the conditions for fusion that in nature are due to gravity inside the Sun) poses formidable challenges.

Some of these challenges are distinctively methodological-conceptual. Uncertainties concerning random initial conditions as well as gaps in our knowledge (epistemic uncertainties) inevitably enter in such modelling exercise. Design decisions by technical teams and policy-decisions by governments around the world have to be taken in the face of such uncertainties. This project will investigate what are the inductive risks at play in this area and the values that enter in such decision-making.

The project will enable the graduate student to pursue the relevant questions above using the following methods:

  • Analyse the relevant philosophical literature on scientific modelling and multiscale modelling
  • Understand the specific challenges that the problem of multiscale modelling presents in fusion energy as a case study among others
  • Work with UKAEA colleagues and stakeholders in identifying inductive risks and values that can inform responsible decision-making in light of uncertainties.

The UKAEA (Oxford)

UKAEA hosts the UK’s national fusion research laboratory, which is at the forefront of contemporary research in fusion energy and is part of a larger co-ordinated worldwide programme of state-funded research. In southern France, 35 nations are collaborating to build the world’s largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy. However, formidable challenges lay ahead: understanding how plasma might behave at high-energy scale; whether physics phenomenology can be extrapolated at those scales, and how to handle uncertainties in the modelling exercise. This PhD studentship offers a unique opportunity for philosophy of science to be part of this cutting-edge research and feed into the UKAEA STEP programme. STEP is the future prototype fusion power plant currently being designed by UKAEA with the purpose of delivering electricity on the grid and demonstrating fusion technologies.

The PhD student will be based in the Philosophy department at the University of Edinburgh as part of a large and very active research community. They will undertake 10 to 14 months of placement within the UKAEA to work with industry partners. UKAEA will provide a desk space and facilitate access to technical expertise and industry contact. We anticipate two main placement periods, an extended one at the beginning to acquire the relevant industry knowledge and a second briefer one toward the end of the project and focussed on knowledge transfer and impact. The timing and duration of the placements are flexible.

Chris Waldon, the external member of the PhD supervisory committee, has extensive experience of leading the design and delivery of complex programmes with first of a kind (FOAK) endeavors containing unprecedented systems, structures and components. He is currently working in the engineering of systems required for magnetic confinement devices used to study the behaviour of plasma in near reactor conditions and he is a contributing author of EUROFusion roadmap to Fusion Energy.

Funding

The studentship covers the following:

  • Annual stipend at standard UKRI rates (which for 2022-23 is set at £17,668) for three years.
  • Tuition fees for the duration of study.
  • Open to UK and International Students.

Eligibility

The studentship is open to Home and International students. We are looking for the following qualifications:

  • Candidates should have a degree in Philosophy with an excellent or very good classification (equivalent to first or upper second class Honours in the UK). Candidates with a degree in physics or chemistry or engineering or related fields are also very welcome to apply as long as they have a Master in Philosophy.
  • All candidates are expected to hold a Master qualification in the relevant discipline, i.e. Philosophy in this case.
  • English language competency at a level that will enable the student to succeed in the degree programme. Read more about English language qualifications for the programme:

Academic qualifications will be assessed by a panel of Philosophy academics and UKAEA experts along with the supporting materials submitted with the application.

Deadline

Application deadline 05 December 2022.

Applicants will be notified if they are being invited for interview by 20th December 2022 with interviews running in early January 2023.

Application process

Please submit as a single PDF file:

  • A brief cover note with full contact details and the names and contact details of 2 referees (1 page)
  • A letter explaining the interest in the studentship and outlining the qualifications (2 pages)
  • A curriculum vitae and transcripts of degrees with marks achieved
  • A writing sample (typically a course essay or a thesis chapter).

Please email the PDF to the PPLS Postgraduate Office and copy in (cc) Professor Michela Massimi by 05 December 2022.

Queries

Informal enquiries about the application process and/or the research project should be emailed to Professor Michela Massimi.

About the University of Edinburgh

For more information please visit:

The University of Edinburgh - postgraduate study

Philosophy @ Edinburgh