Plasma Stabile

Plasma Stabile is a 1965 artwork by renowned British sculpture Geoffrey Clarke. It is located at Culham Campus, the home of the UK’s fusion energy research programme, and was installed to mark the opening of Culham Laboratory in 1965.

Sir John Adams, the first Director of the laboratory, commissioned the piece as part of the ‘finishing touches’ to the look of the newly-opened site. The sculpture’s three intertwined strands were to represent the magnetic field lines of the fusion experiments then being operated at Culham. 

It is thought that plans existed for a much larger 20-feet high installation, with the three panels spiralling up to a pointed spire at the top – but were abandoned on cost grounds, leaving the truncated sculpture that can be seen today. 

The sculpture is made from cast aluminium and is placed on a 10-tonne base of specially-cut Portland Stone. 

Fusion – the power that drives the Sun and all stars – offers a huge new supply of abundant, low-carbon energy. However, taking it from the laboratory to the power grid is one of the most challenging tasks in the history of science and engineering. 

The name Plasma Stabile refers to the hot gas – plasma – used to produce fusion power, and the scientific challenge of keeping it stable within the intense conditions of a fusion machine. The highly complex physics of plasma remains one of the main areas of research at Culham today, as it was in the 1960s. 

Today, Plasma Stabile sits at the heart of a growing science campus, being developed by the UK Atomic Energy Authority to help commercialise fusion. With the UK’s first full-scale prototype plant being designed and private sector fusion companies accelerating the pace of progress, we are closer than ever to realise fusion’s potential as a world-changing energy source. 

Plasma Stabile is a symbol of that promise and a reminder of Culham’s proud history in the quest for the ultimate energy source. 

About the artist

Geoffrey Clarke (1924–2014) was a pioneer in a golden age of British sculpture, whose fearless experimentation with new materials and processes saw him create works that epitomise the vibrancy of the post-war British art scene. A graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, his work was included in the Venice Biennale in 1952. He was one of the first in this country to make sculpture in the 1950s using welded iron, and from the early 1960s developed innovative techniques to cast aluminium (as with Plasma Stabile) rather than bronze.

Clarke’s prolific output ranged from early iron pieces to elegant aluminium works and later wooden abstract pieces of the 1990s. Spanning nearly five decades, Clarke’s diverse work included sculptures, stained glass (including pieces created for Coventry Cathedral), silver, medals and textiles.