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Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE)

What does AWE do?

We are from the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), a government-funded organisation responsible for supporting the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Our company provides the warheads for the Royal Navy’s Trident system, as well as supporting and advising the government on matters related to nuclear terrorism and counter-proliferation.

What will you see at the demonstration?

Our exhibit is focused on plasma, the ‘fourth state of matter’. Students will learn about what plasmas are, how they are formed, and some of their most interesting and important properties; as well as getting an insight into what we use plasmas for at AWE, how they are involved in the research we do and why they are important to our mission of supporting the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The exhibit will also include an interactive demonstration of a ‘plasma speaker’ and how plasmas can be used to create sound and play music.

What physics is used?

The underlying principles of our demonstration are the familiar states of matter and the transitions between them. Our exhibit will expand on these concepts and introduce atomic and quantum physics to explain how plasmas are related to solids, liquids and gases, and how the extremely high temperatures and energies present in places like the centre of the sun cause matter to transition rapidly from solid through to gas and ultimately to a plasma.

Why is it useful?

Due to the nature of our research at AWE we often have to deal, both theoretically and experimentally, with extreme environments where matter is at such high energies that it exists as a plasma. Understanding the properties of plasmas and how they behave under different conditions is vital to understanding our warheads and their capabilities. Following the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) nuclear testing is banned, meaning we must rely more than ever before on theoretical understanding and computer simulation of the physics involved in our work, of which plasmas are an integral part.

UK Ministry of Defence © Crown Owned Copyright 2019/AWE