Key laboratory developments and discoveries during the past year.
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.
Scientists at Princeton University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have developed a rigorous new method for modeling the accretion disk that feeds the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The paper, published online in December in the journal Physical Review Letters, provides a much-needed foundation for simulation of the extraordinary processes involved.
Scientists are closer than ever to unraveling a process called magnetic reconnection that triggers explosive phenomena throughout the universe. Solar flares, northern lights and geomagnetic storms that can disrupt cell phone service and black out power grids are all set off by magnetic field lines that converge, break apart and violently reconnect in ways that are not fully understood.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and Princeton University have proposed a groundbreaking solution to a mystery that has puzzled physicists for decades. At issue is how magnetic reconnection, a universal process that sets off solar flares, northern lights and cosmic gamma-ray bursts, occurs so much faster than theory says should be possible.
Magnetic reconnection is a central problem of plasma physics, key to a wide range of phenomena, from astrophysics (flares, jets, dynamo) to the laboratory (e.g., the sawtooth and tearing instabilities in magnetic fusion).
Throughout the last decade, the prolific combination of experiments, analytical theory and state-of-the-art simulations has delivered a radical overhaul of our understanding of reconnection. This talk aims to overview some of this recent progress, discuss its implications and reflect on future directions for the field.
It is difficult for the standard numerical algorithms currently adopted by the plasma physics community to meet the long-term accuracy and fidelity requirement in large-scale numerical studies of multi-scale, complex dynamics of plasmas in space and laboratory. To overcome this difficulty, researchers have been actively developing a new generation of numerical algorithms that preserve the geometric structures, such as the symplectic structure, of theoretical models in plasma physics.
In 2015 Masaaki Yamada, distinguished laboratory research fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), won the James Clerk Maxwell Prize in Plasma Physics.
Magnetic fusion energy and the plasma physics that underlies it are the topics of ambitious new books by Hutch Neilson, head of the Advanced Projects Department at PPPL, and Amitava Bhattacharjee, head of the Theory Department at the Laboratory. The books describe where research on magnetic fusion energy comes from and where it is going, and provide a basic understanding of the physics of plasma, the fourth state of matter that makes up 99 percent of the visible universe.
Among the intriguing issues in plasma physics are those surrounding X-ray pulsars — collapsed stars that orbit around a cosmic companion and beam light at regular intervals, like lighthouses in the sky. Physicists want to know the strength of the magnetic field and density of the plasma that surrounds these pulsars, which can be millions of times greater than the density of plasma in stars like the sun.
David McComas, an executive leader in managing various complex technical projects and programs, has been named vice president for the U.S. Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). PPPL is the nation's leading center for the exploration of plasma science and magnetic fusion energy. McComas also has been appointed professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton.
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.
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