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Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications
The United States should maintain clear leadership in some major areas of science.… among the criteria … are the following: … the field affects other areas of science disproportionately and therefore has a multiplicative effect on other scientific advances.…
The great diversity of the subfields and applications of plasma science poses significant challenges to ensuring the coordination of activities, the funding of research and development, and even the recognition of the contributions that plasma science makes to our society. Given this great diversity, one of the panel's central recommendations is that there is a need for increased coordination of the support for plasma-related science and technology.
The central theme of this report is that while plasma science has contributed significantly to our society and will continue to do so, it is not adequately recognized as a scientific discipline. Consequently, the basic aspects of plasma science are not adequately supported, and this is threatening the fundamental health and efficiency of our entire effort in plasma science and technology. Although the applications of plasma science are in reasonably good health, the same cannot be said for the underlying, basic plasma science. One of the central conclusions of the Brinkman report, Physics Through the 1990s,2 was that there was a critical need for increased support of basic plasma science. If anything, this is an even greater concern today, particularly in the area of basic plasma experimentation. The panel's conclusion is that structures for the adequate support of basic plasma science are absent across most of the subfields assessed. Thus one of the panel's central findings is that if the nation's investment in plasma science is to be effectively utilized, this deficiency must be remedied. Given the stringent budgetary considerations that can be expected for the foreseeable future, any recommendation must necessarily be modest in scope and motivated by the most pressing needs. With this in mind, one of the panel's central recommendations is to point out two agencies in which increased support of basic plasma science could be of enormous benefit to the entire field.
Increased support for basic experimental plasma science in the National Science Foundation (NSF) would have great impact on a wide variety of applications. This support for broad-based basic research is most in keeping with NSF's charter, and plasma experiment is singled out because it is identified as the most critical need.
The nation's largest investment in plasma science is in the area of magnetic confinement fusion research and development, sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE). This program would benefit enormously from increased support of basic plasma science. In addition, the DOE sponsors support for many other
National Research Council, Plasmas and Fluids, in the series Physics Through the 1990s, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1986.