Research Topics

Fundamental Plasma Theory

plasma research
An illustration of the vast density and temperature conditions under which different types of plasmas can be found.

We research fundamental properties of plasmas in an effort to advance understanding of natural phenomena and to assist in enabling new technologies that advance society. Plasma is often called the “fourth state of matter,” and arises when a large conglomerate of charged particles (electrons and ions) is dense enough to exhibit “collective” behavior – meaning that it behaves as a coherent material rather than simply as a small collection of charges. Plasmas occur naturally in many places, such as the Sun (and all stars), in the upper atmosphere, planetary magnetospheres, and in lighting strikes. In the laboratory, plasmas play a key role in fusion energy research – the effort to unlock the power of the Sun on Earth, to create a nearly limitless source of power. Plasmas are used in many industrial manufacturing processes, including manufacturing the integrated circuits that are now allowing you to view this web page. Often plasmas are extremely hot, but it is also possible to create very cold plasmas in the laboratory using lasers, or other cooling techniques.

We view plasma physics as a coherent scientific discipline. Our research usually starts with fundamental descriptions of plasma at the level of individual particles and fields. However, such complete descriptions are far too complicated to deal with in practice because they require tracking the interaction of an enormous number of charged particles with one another and with external electric and magnetic fields. Starting from these formally complete descriptions, we attempt to develop accurate approximations that describe the salient macroscopic behaviors of plasmas found in different natural phenomena or laboratory experiments.  These efforts involve the fields of kinetic theory, statistical mechanics, transport theory and magnetohydrodynamics. Often our work is assisted by the use of high-performance computing.

Our work touches a number of different disciplines of plasma physics, and an even larger number of applications. In this page, these have been divided into four topics

We welcome you to explore these topics by clicking on the links above, or those found near the top of this page.