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Materials Engineering Group

Research / Students / Susan Storer

Susan Storer

+44 (0) 1908 653304

Student Project
Residual stress in materials for nuclear power generation

Academic supervisors

Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick, Dr. Martin Rist

Sue Storer
Susan Storer

My name is Susan Storer. I have just started my first year as a full time PhD student, in the materials engineering group at the Open University. The materials group ( ) is now part of the department of Design, Development, Environment and Materials (DDEM) ( ) within the Mathematics, Computing and Technology Faculty.

Prior to my PhD studies, I was working as a CAD design draughtsman in engineering design for manufacture companies. Most of my design work was in the electro- mechanical discipline, gaining experience over a wide range of engineering industries, including pneumatic components, microwave/wireless technology, handheld computers, fire alarm systems and telecoms. Much of my draughting career has involved contracting for such companies as Rockwell Automation, Plessey, Mullard Research Labs, Redifon and MEL. I currently work voluntarily as a mentor to younger women entering the engineering professions ( ).

For the past seven years, alongside full time work, I have been studying towards my Batchelor of Engineering (Hons) degree with the OU. It was my enjoyment of the research involved in undergraduate projects that led me to consider studying towards becoming an independent researcher.

Introducing my PhD.

The initial title of my research topic is ‘Residual Stress in Materials for Nuclear Power Generation'. By the end of my first year, I hope to have developed a more focused PhD proposal. For now, my research will concentrate on zirconium alloys (Zr); the material currently used for fuel cladding in light water nuclear reactors (LWR). In some ways, Zr seems the ideal material to use in LWRs as it has good resistance to corrosion, and a particularly low cross section to thermal neutrons, allowing neutrons to pass through it, resulting in the successful production of heat. However, zirconium will eventually corrode over time. Also, hydrogen is produced in the corrosion process, Zr takes up some of the hydrogen, which is detrimental and can often lead to embrittlement and loss of structural integrity.
During the initial stages of the corrosion process (pre-transition), an oxide film layer is produced on the surface of the zirconium. My research is focused on characterizing the residual stresses associated with the oxide layer, using both experimental and analytical methods. These methods will entail using some of the excellent lab equipment the OU has to offer. I envisage using nanoindentation surveys and electron microscopy imaging in my work. There is also the opportunity to travel, with trips to France and Oxford to use the synchrotron x-ray diffraction facilities.

MTS Nanoindenter
AFM image of the nanoindentation for pure zirconium at a load of 1500 µN


My PhD studentship is part of a collaboration between the OU, and the universities of Oxford and Manchester . Other project partners include EDF, British Energy Generation, Rolls-Royce, Westinghouse, Nexia and Serco. If successful, the project could result in reactors with lighter fuel ‘burn up'. This in turn may lead to more efficient reactors and consequently a reduction in nuclear waste. I feel excited and very privileged to be part of such an important project and look on this as a personal opportunity to play a part in improving the environment for future generations.


My supervisors are Dr Mike Fitzpatrick and Dr Martin Rist.


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