The department’s plasma experimental research programs concern basic topics of relevance to advanced accelerators and lasers, Z-pinches, magnetic and inertial confinement fusion, radiation generation, plasma thrusters, materials processing, low temperature plasmas and applications.
For example, NERS faculty and students are researching the fundamental problem of controlled thermonuclear fusion, the process that generates energy in the sun and stars. If achieved, water could be used as fuel and provide an effectively unlimited supply of energy. The problem is how to confine certain nuclei at very high temperatures and pressures until they fuse, releasing energy. The incredible potential payoff of fusion energy has inspired enormous international research programs to understand the physics of hot ionized gases known as plasmas. This research has led to many new applications of plasmas, such as novel particle accelerators, materials research, light sources, medical applications, environmental remediation and semiconductor processing. Read on for sample projects…
Michigan Engineering professor John Foster is working on a method to purify water with the fourth state of matter – plasma.
Experiments are being conducted to generate high power (MW to GW) microwaves from intense, relativistic electron beams. Currently under investigation is the relativistic magnetron. This work is led by Ronald Gilgenbach.
Plasmas and electric propulsion provide the only means for spacecraft to reach the outer planets. U-M research utilizes microwave plasmas to generate ions and electrons needed for such advanced plasma rockets. Other concepts such as the magnetically-insulated inertial confinement fusion and the Gas Dynamic Magnetic Mirror Machine are investigated for space propulsion and deep space missions. This work is led by John Foster.
Laser accelerators can accelerate electrons to an energy of one billion electron volts in a distance of less than one centimeter, which is ten-thousand-times shorter than can be obtained by conventional means. Terawatt lasers with pulse lengths measured in femtoseconds are utilized to accelerate electrons or ions in plasma. This work is led by Alexander Thomas.
Intense x-ray pulses from wire-array z-pinches have successfully generated nuclear fusion neutrons at Sandia National Labs. NERS faculty and students work with Sandia scientists on a wire array z-pinch at U-M that is being upgraded to operate at a plasma current of 1 million Amperes. This work is led by Ronald Gilgenbach and Ryan McBride.
Experiments are being conducted to investigate the physical and chemical processes involved in the manufacturing of integrated circuits using a radio frequency (RF) Parallel Plate GEC Reference Reactor. This work is led by John Foster.
In addition to the theoretical aspects on all of the above, the following areas are actively pursued: electrical breakdown and discharge, heating phenomenology, quantum vacuum nanoelectronics, high brightness electron sources and pulsed-power systems. Yue Ying Lau specializes in plasma theory while Mark Kushner develops computational methods. Scott Baalrud‘s research topics include strongly coupled plasmas, plasma-materials interactions, high energy density plasmas, and plasma kinetic theory.
Intense ultrafast laser sources continue to shed light on the fundamental physics, but also enable diverse applications through both the primary and secondary radiation they produce. We are advancing the technology of coherent light sources such as lasers and optical parametric amplifiers and applying them to address the open questions in science and applications such as material detection and characterization, nuclear security and nonproliferation, and nuclear safety. This work is led by Igor Jovanovic.
Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences