The panel recommends that the program of individual-investigator research in basic plasma theory should be reinvigorated to explore the broad range of intellectually challenging problems in stochastic effects, novel analytical techniques, nonlinear processes, and other areas, which are essential to the continued vitality of plasma theory as a scientific discipline.
Plasma theory is sufficiently advanced that a predictive capability exists for describing the properties of many static plasma configurations and simple wave-particle interactions. However, flowing, turbulent, and highly nonlinear saturation processes are at the forefront of analytical and computational capabilities.
The panel recommends that the design of experiments jointly by theoreticians and experimentalists to elucidate the conceptual foundations of nonlinear plasma physics should be encouraged.
The panel recommends that plasma theory should be encouraged that seeks to establish a commonality of physical processes and applied mathematical techniques across a wide range of realizations, from pellet compression in inertial fusion to plasma processes on astrophysical scales.
Advances in nonlinear plasma science in the past have relied heavily on the insights gained from numerical simulation. The panel envisions that future advances in theoretical plasma physics will have even greater reliance on numerical techniques and on the increased computational capability and visualization techniques available in present-day and future computer systems. A particular challenge is posed by discontinuities such as shocks, current sheets, and double layers.
The panel recommends that emphasis should be placed on ongoing programs in grand-challenge computations. Emphasis also should be placed on plasma computations investigating processes common to a wide range of scales.
The following of the panel's general recommendations (see Executive Summary) are made to improve the national effort in theoretical and computational plasma science:
To reinvigorate basic plasma science in the most efficient and cost-effective way, emphasis should be placed on university-scale research programs.
To ensure the continued availability of the basic knowledge that is needed for the development of applications, the National Science Foundation should provide increased support for basic plasma science.
Individual-investigator and small-group research, including theory and modeling as well as experiments, needs special help, and small amounts of funding could be life-saving. Funding for these activities should come from existing programs that depend on plasma science. A reassessment of the relative allocation of funds between larger, focused research programs and individual-investigator and small-group activities should be undertaken.