Research

From left: Computer simulation of plasma creation on the NSTX-U tokamak; cold helium plasma jets for gas-flow disinfection from our Low Temperature Plasma Laboratory; schematic of a stellarator with 3D twisted plasma
 

Uranus 3D Simulation

Perspective view of the Uranian magnetosphere from a ten-moment multifluid simulation

permanent magnet stellarator

Early concept of a permanent magnet stellarator with permanent magnets in red and blue

But we don’t stop there. Our work is integral to the success of the ITER tokamak and burning plasmas, and to the design of next-step fusion devices including pilot plants – a national priority outlined by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. We are improving fusion through innovations in shaping and plasma composition, and in the creative use of powerful magnets to confine hot plasmas. 

We further our mission by developing advanced low-temperature plasma applications ranging from nanofabrication for microelectronics to plasma thrusters for space travel to help maintain U.S. economic and technological competitiveness. And finally, we strive to understand the plasma universe from the lab to the cosmos.

Plasma applications embrace everything from fusion to the fabrication of microchips as highlighted below. The team developing the spherical National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade, PPPL’s flagship fusion device, is advancing the physics and engineering basis for a next-step fusion reactor based on the spherical design.  Operating in parallel is the Lithium Tokamak Experiment - Beta, which studies the beneficial effects of lithium on energy confinement in fusion reactors. 

The PPPL Theory Department explores the scientific basis for harvesting fusion with state-of-the-art computational resources and investigates plasma in all its forms. PPPL plays a role in the operation and research direction of other tokamaks around the country and the world, including the leading international tokamak collaboration, ITER, under construction in France.

The second most studied magnetic confinement fusion concept, the stellarator, was invented at PPPL by its founder, Lyman Spitzer. Concepts now being developed at the Laboratory include the Permanent Magnet Stellarator under study in the Advanced Projects department and our scientists collaborate closely with stellarator projects throughout the world. Also critical to the development or magnetic fusion energy are  science and engineering projects that encompass auxiliary heating, advanced diagnostics, plasma facing components, and magnet technology.

Following are close-up looks at major aspects of the Laboratory’s work.

Science of Nanoscale Fabrication

PPPL conducts world-leading research and development into low-temperature plasma, which is used to create a broad range of advanced technologies. From a new generation of powerful computer microchips that will be based on the principles of quantum mechanics to new techniques for the construction of semiconductors, the technology being explored at PPPL could have a large economic impact on the United States and around the world.

Laboratory for Plasma Nanosynthesis (LPN)

This leading facility is a collaboration with Princeton University that enables scientists to use plasma to manipulate materials at the nanoscale level, the size of billionths of a meter. Doing so can help create microscopic structures like carbon nanotubes, far stronger than steel, to replace silicon in computer chips and improve performance.

The LPN is also involved in PPPL’s new Quantum Information Science (QIS) research program. QIS is focused on the synthesis of plasma to develop the fabrication of quantum computer chips and the creation of specialized crystals for quantum sensors.

Princeton Collaborative Low Temperature Plasma Research Facility (PCRF)

PCRF is a joint venture involving PPPL and Princeton University providing researchers with access to world-class diagnostics and computational tools for measuring and experimenting with low-temperature plasmas. 

Also underway are collaborations between PPPL and two leading manufacturers of processing equipment used to fabricate semiconductors. These collaborations aim to develop advanced computation and state-of-the-art plasma diagnostics to fabricate semiconductors at the atomic scale.

 

Nano Arc Plasma

Filtered image of an atmospheric pressure carbon arc produced for synthesis of carbon nanotubes

MRX_Jongsoo

Physicist Jongsoo Yoo with Magnetic Reconnection Experiment and visualizations of Earth's magnetosphere

Flare Simulation_Jonathan Jara-Almonte

Computer rendering of a simulation of magnetic reconnection in FLARE. Simulation by physicists  Adam Stanier and Bill Daughton of Los Alamos National Laboratory with rendering by PPPL physicist Jonathan Jara-Almonte