Colloquium: From Lab to Space: Tokamak Studies of Heat Shields, Energetic Particles, and Origins of Life

Jan 31, 2024, 4:00 pm5:15 pm
General Public (virtual)



Event Description

In this presentation, we will explore how laboratory magnetized plasma can help us uncover key questions of space physics and space exploration, including spacecraft heat shield performance, energetic electron transport during geomagnetic storms, and formation of organics in early Earth’s conditions. In each case, experiments were conducted in magnetized plasma at the DIII-D tokamak. First, we will show how the heating conditions in the tokamak edge plasma are similar to those experienced by the Galileo probe during its entry into Jupiter’s atmosphere. By exposing carbon-based materials to this plasma environment, we could benchmark models predicting how the spacecraft heat shield will perform during such an entry. Next, we will show how the tokamak magnetic field topology can be manipulated to trap, accelerate and release high-energy electrons through structures called magnetic islands. It is expected that the interaction of energetic electrons and magnetic islands in the Earth’s magnetosphere is a major factor causing geomagnetic storms during solar flares. Finally, we will show preliminary results from experiments where carbon and silica materials are exposed to the tokamak plasma with hydrogen, nitrogen and methane gas puffs. The goal of this experiment is to test the hypothesis that complex inorganics and organics could have been formed in the plasma tails of meteoroids entering the early Earth’s atmosphere, thus providing clues on the origins of life.

Jack Berkery