Discovery Plasma Science PPPL’s Discovery Plasma Science Department conducts ground-breaking research into a broad range of the uses and behavior of plasma, the fourth state of matter that makes up 99 percent of the visible universe, for applications that benefit humanity. At right: PPPL physicists Shurik Yatom and Sophia Gershman conducting low temperature plasma research PPPL physicists Shurik Yatom and Sophia Gershman conducting low temperature plasma research. Magnetic Reconnection When the magnetic field lines on the sun snap apart and violently reconnect, they can release enormous amounts of energy that trigger geomagnetic storms. Those storms can disrupt cell phone service, damage satellites and blackout power grids. But how this process, known as magnetic reconnection, transforms magnetic energy into explosive particle energy remains a major unsolved problem in plasma astrophysics that PPPL scientists are addressing. A better understanding of geomagnetic storms could lead to advanced warning of the disturbances and an improved ability to cope with them. Researchers could shut down sensitive instruments on communications satellites, for example, to protect the instruments from harm. This research is part of the work being conducted in the PS&T Department using sophisticated devices known as the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX) and the Facility for Laboratory Reconnection Experiment (FLARE), which the Laboratory is installing. PS&T scientists also collaborate with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on missions such as the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS), which studies reconnection using instruments on four spacecraft flying in formation. Artist's rendering of the four MMS satellites in orbit Plasma Thrusters Plasma thrusters are not just found in science fiction. PPPL scientists use the Laboratory’s Hall Thruster Experiment (HTX) to understand how to create systems that expel plasma as a propellant for spacecraft. PPPL scientists have also researched the creation of miniature Hall thrusters. These small devices could raise and lower the orbits of small satellites known as CubeSats that circle the Earth, a capability not broadly available to small spacecraft today, and would hold the potential for exploration of deep space. Fleets of CubeSats could also capture in fine detail the reconnection process in the magnetosphere, the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth. The Hall thruster experiment in operation at PPPL Princeton Collaborative Low Temperature Plasma Research Facility (PCRF) The Princeton Collaborative Low Temperature Plasma Research Facility (PCRF) provides national and international researchers access to world-class diagnostics, computational tools, and expertise in plasma physics at PPPL and Princeton University. PPPL heads the joint venture launched in 2019 for industries and research institutions studying low temperature plasmas — a rapidly expanding source of innovation in fields ranging from electronics to health care to space exploration. PCRF hosts some 20-25 collaborations per year and plays many roles for PPPL. These include expanding our expertise in low temperature plasma, supporting our rapidly growing initiatives in microelectronics, sustainability and plasma medicine, and enabling Laboratory researchers to participate in the low-temperature plasma community throughout the world.