Skip to content
David Donovan

David C. Donovan

Assistant Professor


University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assistant Professor
August 2014–present

  • Developing a research program in fusion energy science, plasma physics, plasmamaterial interactions, and near term applications of nuclear fusion devices.

Sandia National Laboratory, Hydrogen and Metallurgy Sciences
Postdoctoral Appointee
May 2011–July 2014
Manager: Thomas Felter
Principal Investigator: Dean Buchenauer

Collaborative work with the DIII-D Experimental Fusion Reactor at General Atomics in San Diego, California.

  • Langmuir probe analysis at the divertor to study the power reaching the first wall through the plasma sheath.
  • Utilization of plasma sheath theory to identify previously unrecognized nonambipolar currents and achieve agreement between heat flux and plasma diagnostics never before achieved.
  • Heat flux measurements at the divertor using temperature profiles from an embedded thermocouple array and heat conduction modeling.
  • Use of new plasma diagnostics for the Divertor Material Evaluation System (DiMES) retractable platform.

Collaborative work with Idaho National Laboratory on the Tritium Plasma Experiment.

  • Exposure of tungsten samples to deuterium plasma beam to study tungsten surface morphology changes.
  • Design of sample holders to be used in high heat/high plasma flux environment that also allow for study of tritium permeation.

Studied energetic helium induced damage to tungsten surfaces in order to quantify effects and test modeling of stability of first wall materials in magnetically confined fusion experiments.

  • Characterization of an ECR ion source using Langmuir probes and a retarding field analyzer.
  • Tungsten sample analysis performed using SEM, AFM, Profilometry, Auger Spectroscopic Analysis.
  • Grazing Incidence X-Ray Diffraction (GIXRD) of tungsten samples from the PISCES experiment at UCSD that have experienced Helium induced damage to study crystalline size and microstrain of the deformed surface features.

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Engineering Physics, Fusion Technology Institute
Graduate Researcher
September 2006–March 2011
Advisor: Professor Gerald Kulcinski

  • Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC) fusion device used as a neutron generator (D-D fusion neutrons) to actively interrogate and detect nitrogen-based explosives.
  • Computational modeling (MCNP, SRIM) to optimize:
    • Use of moderating materials to obtain ideal thermalization of neutrons.
    • Configuration of neutron source and interrogation sample to achieve highest probability of successful identification.
  • Optimization and parameterization of an IEC fusion device with regard to cathode grid design, electrode configurations, cathode voltage, ion current, and operating deuterium pressure for the purpose of maximizing neutron production.
  • Development and utilization of a diagnostic for the simultaneous measurement of the Doppler shift and time of flight of D-D fusion products (protons, tritons) for the purpose of gaining spatial and energy profiles of fusion reactions occurring along radial lines through an IEC fusion device.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Fusion Energy Division
Research Assistant
June 2006–August 2006
Mentor: John Caughman

  • Assisted on experiments and performed data analysis on research studying the effects of high voltage arcing on electrode surfaces and the circumstances that initiate high voltage arcing for the purpose of minimizing their negative effects on high voltage systems.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering Department, Plasma Materials Interactions Group
Undergraduate Research Assistant
December 2002–May 2006
Advisor: Professor David Ruzic

Assisted on plasma material interactions experiments relating to:

  • Surface etching and deposition for the purpose of semiconductor processing.
  • Effects of high voltage arcing on electrodes for application in designing high voltage components in magnetically confined fusion experiments.


MS and PhD, Nuclear Engineering & Engineering Physics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2011

  • Dissertation Title: “Spatial Profiling Using a Time of Flight Diagnostic and Applications of Deuterium-Deuterium Fusion in Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Devices”
  • Academic Advisor: Professor Gerald Kulcinski

BS, Nuclear Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2006

  • Academic Advisor: Professor David Ruzic

Professional Service

UW Energy Hub: Executive Member, spring 2008 to March 2011

UW Energy Hub: Conference Director, 2008

United States Particle Accelerator School (USPAS): Participant, January 2010

Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Bootcamp: Participant, summer 2007

American Physical Society: Member, 2010 to present

American Nuclear Society Student Section: Member, 2002 to 2011

Alpha Nu Sigma National Honor Society: Member, spring 2007 to March 2011


C. Donovan, R. Nygren, D. Buchenauer, J. Watkins, D. Rudakov, A. Leonard, C. P. C. Wong, M. Makowski, “Divertor sheath power studies in DIII-D using fixed Langmuir probes and 3-D modeling of tile heat flows,” Physica Scripta, (To be published, 2013).

D.C. Donovan, D. Buchenauer, J. Watkins, A. Leonard, C. Wong, M. Schaffer, D. Rudakov, C. Lasnier, P. Stangeby, “Experimental measurements of the particle flux and sheath power transmission factor profiles in the divertor of DIII-D,” Journal of Nuclear Materials, 438, Supplement, July 2013, S467-S471.

D.C. Donovan, D.R. Boris, G.L. Kulcinski, J.F. Santarius, G.R. Piefer, “Measuring Time of Flight of Fusion Products in an Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Device for Spatial Profiling of Fusion Reactions,” Review of Scientific Instruments, 84, 033501 (2013).

D.C. Donovan, “Spatial Profiling Using a Time of Flight Diagnostic and Applications of Deuterium-Deuterium Fusion in Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Devices,” PhD Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Engineering Physics, March 2011

D.C. Donovan, D.R. Boris, G.L. Kulcinski, J.F. Santarius “Optimization of an IEC Fusion Device to Increase Steady-State D-D Neutron Generation Rates,” Fusion Science and Technology, 56, 4 (2008), 507-511.

Buchenauer, R. Kolasinski, M. Shimada, D.C. Donovan, D. Youchison, B. Merrill, “Development of a plasma driven permeation experiment for TPE,” Fusion Engineering and Design, In publication (2014).

R.D. Kolasinski, D.F. Cowgill, D.C. Donovan, M. Shimada, W.R. Wampler, “Mechanisms of gas precipitation in plasma-exposed tungsten,” Journal of Nuclear Materials, 438, Supplement, July 2013, S1019-21022.

D.R. Boris, G.L. Kulcinski, J.F. Santarius, D.C. Donovan, G.R. Piefer, “Measuring D(d,p)T fusion reactant energy spectra with Doppler shifted fusion products,” Journal of Applied Physics, 107, 123305 (2010).

G.L. Kulcinski, J.F. Santarius, G.A. Emmert, R.L. Bonomo, E.C. Alderson, G.E. Becerra, D.R. Boris, D.C. Donovan, B.J. Egle, J.H. Sorebo, and S.J. Zenobia, “Near Term Applications of Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Research,” Fusion Science and Technology, 56, 493 (2009).

D.R. Boris, E.C. Alderson, G.E. Becerra, D.C. Donovan, B.J. Egle, G.A. Emmert G.L. Kulcinski, J.F. Santarius, J.H. Sorebo, C. Schuff, S.J. Zenobia, “Deuterium anions in inertial electrostatic confinement fusion devices,” Physical Review E, 80, 036408 (2009).

David Donovan

Contact Information

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.