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Suggested Citation: "Summary." National Research Council. Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.
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Suggested Citation: "Summary." National Research Council. Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.
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Suggested Citation: "Summary." National Research Council. Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.
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Suggested Citation: "Summary." National Research Council. Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.
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Summary Plasma science is on the cusp of a new era. It is poised to make significant breakthroughs in the next decade that will transform the field. For example, the international magnetic fusion experiment—more exactly, the International Ther- monuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)—is expected to confine burning plasma for the first time, a critical step on the road to commercial fusion. The National Ignition Facility (NIF) plans to ignite capsules of fusion fuel to acquire knowledge necessary to improve the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear stockpile. Low-temperature plasma applications are already ushering in new products and techniques that will change everyday lives. And plasma scientists are being called on to help crack the mysteries surrounding exotic phenomena in the cosmos. This dynamic future will be exciting but also challenging for the field. It will demand a well-organized national plasma science enterprise. This report examines the broad themes that frame plasma research and offers a bold vision for the future. Principal Conclusion:  The expanding scope of plasma research is creating an abundance of new scientific opportunities and challenges. These oppor- tunities promise to further expand the role of plasma science in enhancing economic security and prosperity, energy and environmental security, na- tional security, and scientific knowledge. Plasma science has a coherent intellectual framework unified by physical pro- cesses that are common to many subfields. Therefore, and as this report shows, plasma science is much more than a basket of applications. The Plasma 2010 Com- mittee believes that it is important to nurture fundamental knowledge of plasma 

 Plasma Science science across all of its subfields in order to advance the science and to create op- portunities for a broader range of science-based applications. These advances and opportunities are, in turn, central to the achievement of national priority goals such as fusion energy, economic competitiveness, and stockpile stewardship. The vitality of plasma science in the past decade testifies to the success of some of the individual federally supported plasma science programs. However, the emergence of new research directions necessitates a concomitant evolution in the structure and portfolio of programs at the federal agencies that support plasma science. The committee has identified four significant research challenges that the federal plasma science portfolio as currently organized is not equipped to exploit optimally: fundamental low-temperature plasma science; discovery-driven, high- energy-density plasma science; intermediate-scale plasma science; and crosscutting plasma research. Notwithstanding the success of individual federal plasma science programs, the lack of coherence across the federal government ignores the unity of the sci- ence and is an obstacle to overcoming many research challenges, realizing scientific opportunities, and exploiting promising applications. The committee observes that effective stewardship of plasma science as a discipline will likely expedite the applications of plasma science. The need for stewardship has been identified in many reports over two decades. The evolution of the field has only exacerbated the stewardship problem, and the committee concluded that the need for a new approach is greater than ever. Recognizing the need both to provide an integrated approach and to connect the science to applications and the broader science community, the committee considered a number of options. After weighing relative pros and cons, the com- mittee recommends as follows: Principal Recommendation:  To fully realize the opportunities in plasma research, a unified approach is required. Therefore, the Department of En- ergy’s Office of Science should reorient its research programs to incorporate magnetic and inertial fusion energy sciences; basic plasma science; non- mission-driven, high-energy-density plasma science; and low-temperature plasma science and engineering. The new stewardship role for the Office of Science would extend well beyond the present mission and purview of the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (OFES). It would include a broader portfolio of plasma science as well as the research OFES currently supports. Two of the thrusts in this portfolio would be new: (1) a non-mission-driven, high-energy-density plasma science program and (2) a low- temperature plasma science and engineering program. The stewardship framework would not replace or duplicate the plasma science programs in other agencies; rather, it would enable a science-based focal point for federal efforts in plasma-

Summary  based research. These changes would be more evolutionary than revolutionary, starting modestly and growing with the expanding science opportunities. The committee recognizes that these new programs would require new resources and perhaps a new organizational structure for the Office of Science. A comprehensive strategy for stewardship will be needed to ensure a successful outcome. Other guidance for implementing this vision appears in the main report. Among the issues to be addressed in planning such a strategy are these: • Integration of scientific elements, • Development of a strategic planning process that not only spans the field but also provides guidance to each of the subfields, and • Identification of risks and implementation of strategies to avoid them. There is a spectacular future awaiting the United States in plasma science and engineering. But the national framework for plasma science must grow and adapt to new opportunities. Only then will the tremendous potential be realized.

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As part of its current physics decadal survey, Physics 2010, the NRC was asked by the DOE, NSF, and NASA to carry out an assessment of and outlook for the broad field of plasma science and engineering over the next several years. The study was to focus on progress in plasma research, identify the most compelling new scientific opportunities, evaluate prospects for broader application of plasmas, and offer guidance to realize these opportunities. The study paid particular attention to these last two points. This "demand-side" perspective provided a clear look at what plasma research can do to help achieve national goals of fusion energy, economic competitiveness, and nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship. The report provides an examination of the broad themes that frame plasma research: low-temperature plasma science and engineering; plasma physics at high energy density; plasma science of magnetic fusion; space and astrophysical science; and basic plasma science. Within those themes, the report offers a bold vision for future developments in plasma science.

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