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Department of Earth Sciences

Earth & Nuclear Materials


Before coming to Cambridge Ian held research positions with the CNRS and at Stanford University. Currently, he is Chair of the Cambridge Centre for Nuclear Energy, Cambridge Director of the Imperial Cambridge Open (ICO) EPSRC CDT in Nuclear Energy and a founding member of the inter-departmental Cambridge MPhil in Nuclear Energy. His research focuses on an atomistic understanding of radiation damage and aqueous corrosion processes in nuclear materials, including nuclear waste forms and their natural analogues, fuels, clads. He currently leads several EPSRC funded Research consortia in these areas. He has held visiting professor positions at Stanford University, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the European Commission Joint Research Centre, Karlsruhe. 


Earth and nuclear materials at an atomistic scale - interaction with radiation and water

The successful disposal of radioactive waste arising from civilian nuclear power production or weapons programmes requires an understanding of processes taking place over timescales ranging from picoseconds to millennia and distance scales of nm to km.  We concentrate on the small distance and long lime scale which can provide a more deterministic understanding of the behaviour of nuclear waste than large scale repository models. We apply fundamental, atomistic approaches to reveal underlying physical and chemical processes. Confidence in our knowledge of the underlying mechanisms is the only way to ensure the safety of disposed materials over the timescales mandated by regulators. We use nuclearised analytical techniques to examine the atomic scale effects arising from the irradiation of materials with highly energetic light and heavy ions, neutrons and high-energy electrons to accelerate how radiation damage accumulates over time.  We also compare radiation damage occurring in natural analogue materials such as zircon with materials doped with 238Pu to accelerate actinide radiation damage effects directly. Our group has spent time developing protocols and techniques to handle irradiated and actinide containing materials, which includes the development of 'active' facilities at nuclear licensed sites such as EC JRC Karlsruhe and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with whom we collaborate. We combine an applied approach related to systematic durability testing with fundamental atomic scale methods using isotope specific methods such as ICP-MS and NMR to understand the production and durability of the primary barriers to radionuclide release from nuclear waste forms (glass, spent nuclear fuel, ceramic waste-forms) and methods of waste minimization through re-processing using molten salts and production of appropriate halide tolerant waste forms. The techniques we have developed can be readily applied to other situations where an understanding of the combined effect of radiation and water on materials is required. We are actively involved with the development of new nuclear fuel cladding that is more tolerant of severe accidents (station blackout) and the exploration of ab initio methods of materials discovery applied to produce more accident tolerant fuels.


Key publications: 

Recent publications can be found in the publications database here

  1. I. Farnan and C. Berthon, Applications of NMR in nuclear chemistry, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance: Volume 45 ed. V. Ramesh, 2016, 45, 96-141

  2. K. M. Smye, C. Brigden, E. R. Vance and I. Farnan, Quantification of alpha-particle radiation damage in zircon, American Mineralogist, 2014, 99, 2095-2104
  3. Brigden, C. T., I. Farnan, and P. R. Hania (2014), Multi-nuclear NMR study of polytype and defect distribution in neutron irradiated silicon carbide, Journal of Nuclear Materials, 444(1-3), 92-100.
  4. Smith, A. L., P. E. Raison, L. Martel, T. Charpentier, I. Farnan, D. Prieur, C. Hennig, A. C. Scheinost, R. J. M. Konings, and A. K. Cheetham (2014), A Na-23 Magic Angle Spinning Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, XANES, and High-Temperature X-ray Diffraction Study of NaUO3, Na4UO5, and Na2U2O7, Inorg. Chem., 53(1), 375-382.
  5. Teterin, Y. A.,  A.J. Popel, K.I. Maslov, A.Y. Teterin, K.E. Ivanov,  S. N. Kalmykov, R. Springell, T. B. Scott, I. Farnan  XPS Study of Ion Irradiated and Unirradiated UO2 Thin Films. Inorg. Chem. 55, 8059-8070, doi:10.1021/acs.inorgchem.6b01184 (2016).
  6. Martel, L., J. Somers, C. Berkmann, F. Koepp, A. Rothermel, O. Pauvert, C. Selfslag, and I. Farnan (2013), A nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer concept for hermetically sealed magic angle spinning investigations on highly toxic, radiotoxic, or air sensitive materials, The Review of scientific instruments, 84(5), 055112-055112.

  7. Farnan, I., Cho, H. & Weber, W. J. Quantification of actinide α-radiation damage in minerals and ceramics. Nature 445, 190-193 (2007).

Teaching and Supervisions

Research supervision: 

The effect of radiation damage on molybdate solution in radioactive waste glass

Karishma Patel,  Cambridge International Doctoral Scholar and in collaboration with Commissariat à L'Energie Atomiques et Alternatives, Marcoule, France

Dissolution-precipitation versus in situ alteration in radioactive waste glass durability

Rui Guo,  Cambridge International Doctoral Scholar

Understanding the relationship between the durability of complex and simplified UK HLW glasses

Tom Goût, PhD studentship  in collaboration with Radioactive Waste Management Ltd

Coupling source term, mineral reactivity and flow in radionuclide transport

Taj Iwalewa,  Cambridge-IDB Doctoral Scholar

Uranium oxide dissolution mechanisms in oxic, anoxic and reducing environments

Beng-Thye Tan, Government Singapore Doctoral Scholar

Chemical and radiolytic ageing of actinide oxides by MASNMR

Giles Rought Witta, PhD studentship EPSRC ICO-CDT In Nuclear Energy, AWE

The effect of radiation damage on the properties of zirconium carbide based layered ceramics

Dhan-sham Rana,  PhD studentship EPSRC ICO-CDT In Nuclear Energy, Westinghouse Electric

Layered carbide materials for reactor cores

Dr Aleksej Popel Post-doctoral Fellowship, Frazer-Nash

New materials for nuclear applications

Dr John Trail, Post-doctoral Fellowship (with Chris Pickard MSM) Frazer-Nash

Research Consortia

EPSRC Advance Materials for Fission: Carbides for Future Fission Environments (CaFFE)

EU H2020 Implementing Geological Disposal Technology Platform: Dissolution of spent nuclear fuel, in container effects  (DISCO)


Part IB ESB Crystallography & Optical Mineralogy

Part II ES Core Mineralogy - Diffraction

Part III ES Option - Applications of Mineral Sciences - Nuclear Fuel Cycle & Waste

MPhil in Nuclear Energy Module NE4 - Fuel Cycle, Waste & Decommissioning

Part III Materials Science & Metallurgy Nuclear Materials Option (with AL Greer)

Part IIB Engineering 4I5 Nuclear Materials (with AL Greer)

Professor Ian  Farnan

Contact Details


Person keywords: 
Mineral Physics
Computer Simulations