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Plasma astrophysics

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A field of physics that is growing in interest worldwide that tackles such astrophysical phenomena as the source of violent space weather and the formation of stars.

Will Fox wins 2019 Thomas H. Stix Award for early career contributions to plasma physics

Leadership of laboratory experiments that bring astrophysical processes down to Earth has won physicist Will Fox the 2019 Thomas H. Stix Award.  The American Physical Society (APS) honor, which recognizes outstanding early career contributions to plasma physics, was established in 2013 in the name of the late Thomas H. Stix, the pioneering plasma researcher who founded the graduate plasma physics program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).

Original and seminal experiments

Advances in plasma and fusion science over the past year are described in Quest, PPPL’s annual research magazine

From helping the nation’s power grid to advancing the creation of “a star in a jar” for a virtually endless supply of electric power, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have developed insights and discoveries over the past year that advance understanding of the universe and the prospect for safe, clean, and abundant energy.

Four scientists at PPPL awarded national and international honors

Institutions ranging from NASA to the Korean Physical Society have recently bestowed national and international honors on four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). The awards recognize a veteran and three early career physicists for their path-setting achievements in fusion and plasma science research. The honorees and their notable contributions:

Rajesh Maingi named Fellow of the American Nuclear Society

Tied in knots: New insights into plasma behavior focus on twists and turns

Whether zipping through a star or a fusion device on Earth, the electrically charged particles that make up the fourth state of matter better known as plasma are bound to magnetic field lines like beads on a string. Unfortunately for plasma physicists who study this phenomenon, the magnetic field lines often lack simple shapes that equations can easily model. Often they twist and knot like pretzels. Sometimes, when the lines become particularly twisted, they snap apart and join back together, ejecting blobs of plasma and tremendous amounts of energy.

Confirming a little-understood source of the process behind northern lights and the formation of stars

Fast magnetic reconnection, the rapid convergence, separation and explosive snapping together of magnetic field lines, gives rise to northern lights, solar flares and geomagnetic storms that can disrupt cell phone service and electric power grids. The phenomenon takes place in plasma, the state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei, or ions, that makes up 99 percent of the visible universe. But whether fast reconnection can occur in partially ionized plasma — plasma that includes atoms as well as free electrons and ions — is not well understood.

Steven Cowley, PPPL director, explains “the Magnetic Universe” at Science on Saturday

Steven Cowley, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), has spent a lifetime working to develop fusion energy as a viable source of electricity. But in his spare time, he enjoys investigating the role of magnetism in the universe.   

“I’m a fusion nut and I spent most of my career talking about how to make fusion work,” Cowley told the audience at PPPL’s second Ronald E. Hatcher Science on Saturday lecture on “The Magnetic Universe” at PPPL on Jan. 19. “I’ve also done some work understanding magnetic field lines in the universe. It’s kind of a hobby.” 

Turn, turn, turn: New findings bring physicists closer to understanding the formation of planets and stars

Down a hallway in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), scientists study the workings of a machine in a room stuffed with wires and metal components. The researchers seek to explain the behavior of vast clouds of dust and other material that encircle stars and black holes and collapse to form planets and other celestial bodies.


U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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