National Academies Press: OpenBook

Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications (1995)

Chapter: SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS

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Suggested Citation:"SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1995. Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4936.
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Page 152
Suggested Citation:"SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1995. Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4936.
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Page 153
Suggested Citation:"SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1995. Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4936.
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Page 154
Suggested Citation:"SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1995. Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4936.
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Page 155

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BASIC PLASMA EXPERIMENTS 152 to a degree of detail previously unattainable. Below, we briefly list some possibilities, assuming the capability exists to create a lattice of thousands of microscopic detectors and/or thousands of channels of optical probes. In plasma physics, the plasma is typically described by a combination of time-averaged and fluctuating fields. In the case of a turbulent plasma, the average of a quantity may be much smaller than its fluctuating component. If one considers an experiment that is repeated many times, all individual quantities, such as the instantaneous values of the electric and magnetic fields, the density, and the particle distribution function, can in principle be measured and recorded. This detailed set of measurements could be used to calculate the higher moments of the distribution function to test the assumptions that go into the derivations of the equations of kinetic theory. For example, our present understanding of three-body correlations is poor, but such quantities could be measured directly. Fine structure in the particle distribution functions could also be measured. Measurements by particle detectors on spacecraft and in the laboratory indicate that when instabilities are present, the distribution functions cannot be regarded simply as functions of the magnitudes of the components of velocity perpendicular and parallel to the magnetic field. Snapshots of the distribution functions could be expected to reveal phase-space structures that go far beyond such a simplified description. Such highly anisotropic particle distribution functions can be expected to have profound effects on the growth and damping of a variety of plasma waves. With such detailed measurements, one could also test the validity of equating temporal averages with spatial ones. The ability to probe fine spatial scales will permit a detailed exploration of plasma sheaths and boundary layers. For example, tiny puff valves and micro- beam sources could be used to tailor the local particle distribution function or to add minute quantities of an impurity ion. Finally, phenomena on scale lengths ranging from less than the Debye length, to the ion cyclotron radius, to the electron cyclotron radius, could be explored simultaneously in one experiment. This would allow exploration of physics from the regime in which single- particle interactions are important to the regime in which kinetic and MHD effects are dominant. SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS The panel has great concern that basic experimental plasma science is disappearing in the United States. By its count, there are currently fewer than 20 groups engaged in basic plasma experiments in the United States. Yet an intellectual atmosphere that allows for dialogue, complementary experiments, and in some cases, competition is necessary for any field of modern science to make efficient progress. There is tremendous benefit to be derived if different research groups working on similar and complementary problems can exchange

BASIC PLASMA EXPERIMENTS 153 ideas and collaborate. Investigators free to follow where their research leads produce qualitatively new insights and new approaches to the underlying science. This type of scientific environment typically produces new techniques and new ideas on a rapid time scale. Such basic science is the foundation for applied science. These processes do not happen as frequently at large "technology centers," which must operate in a less flexible and more programmatic fashion. In plasma science, the place for new and significant discovery is very frequently the laboratory. When there are significant new theoretical predictions, much of the value of these predictions is lost if they cannot be tested quantitatively by experiment. There is no adequate substitute for carefully planned and precisely controlled laboratory experiments. Many interesting and stimulating observations of plasmas can be made by spacecraft, but space experiments are not a substitute for the well-controlled and repeatable experiments that can be performed in the laboratory. The notion that computers can simulate plasmas so well that laboratory experiment can be replaced is also incorrect and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Laboratory experiments, theory and modeling, spacecraft and astrophysical observations, active space experiments, and experiments on fusion plasmas are synergistic. It is the healthy interplay among all these elements that will lead to a healthy plasma science. The field can "get along" for a while ignoring one element or the other, but it cannot continue for long in the unbalanced manner that has occurred in the last decade in the case of basic laboratory plasma experiments. Without a healthy underpinning of experimental laboratory work, the field of plasma science will not attract talented young scientists and is destined to become sterile and inefficient. As a consequence, the highest priority of the panel is the establishment of a system of sustained support for modest-sized experimental efforts, sufficiently small and flexible that they can make rapid changes in their approach to a research problem, guided by the internal logic of the science and by new experimental and theoretical discoveries as they develop. As discussed in Chapter 4, fundamental aspects of plasma science crucial to fusion physics must be pursued in detail in the fusion-relevant geometries provided by large plasma devices and facilities. However, given the relatively high costs of operation of large facilities and the limited funds that one can expect for fundamental plasma experiments, the number of large devices not motivated by important applications such as space science or fusion is likely to remain small for the foreseeable future. It is the conclusion of the panel that the type of sponsorship necessary for a revitalization of basic plasma experimental science is the support of at least 30 to 40 independent groups at a reasonable level for experimental research in a university, which is of the order of $200,000 to $400,000 per year. For example, funding at the $200,000 level would allow a program of two students, a postdoctoral researcher, and modest expenditures on equipment and supplies. Larger programs would require some technical support and additional personnel

BASIC PLASMA EXPERIMENTS 154 and equipment, as appropriate. It is important that such support be granted for periods of at least three years, given satisfactory performance, so that significant research goals can be set and accomplished. Large equipment purchases would have to be funded from separate equipment proposals. Given that the infrastructure for basic experimental facilities has declined so significantly in the past two decades, additional initial equipment purchases, where necessary, would typically range from $300,000 to $600,000 per program. Additional mechanisms that would allow for collaboration between groups on a rapid time scale, compared to the proposal cycle that now exists, would also be beneficial. Placing some resources at the discretion of program managers would be one way to accomplish this. The increased support that the panel recommends for basic experimental research can be expected to serve an important educational function as well. It is generally recognized that small-scale experiments are an excellent setting in which to train students. The training of students, under the guidance of their supervisor, to make qualitative changes in an experiment or even in research direction as results unfold is invaluable in modern research and technological development. In addition, experimental plasma science students typically receive very thorough training in such important areas of modern technology as digital electronics, optics and computational hardware and software. The following of the panel's general recommendations (see Executive Summary) are made to implement the revitalization of experimental plasma science described above: 1. To reinvigorate basic plasma science in the most efficient and cost- effective way, emphasis should be placed on university-scale research programs. 2. 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. 3. To aid the development of fusion and other energy-related programs now supported by the Department of Energy, the Office of Basic Energy Sciences, with the cooperation of the Office of Fusion Energy, should provide increased support for basic experimental plasma science. Such emphasis would leverage the DOE's present investment in plasma science and would strengthen investigations in other energy- related areas of plasma science and technology. 4. Approximately $15 million per year for university-scale experiments should be provided, and continued in future years, to effectively redress the current lack of support for fundamental plasma science, which is a central concern of this report. Furthermore, 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

BASIC PLASMA EXPERIMENTS 155 programs and individual-investigator and small-group activities should be undertaken. The panel recommends that the National Science Foundation increase its support for individual principal investigators conducting university-scale programs in basic research because this is most closely associated with NSF's mission. Increased support for basic research by the Department of Energy is recommended because DOE is charged with responsibility for both the magnetic and inertial confinement fusion programs, as well as a number of other energy-relevant programs that are critically dependent on the fundamental principles of modern plasma science.

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Plasma science is the study of ionized states of matter. This book discusses the field's potential contributions to society and recommends actions that would optimize those contributions. It includes an assessment of the field's scientific and technological status as well as a discussion of broad themes such as fundamental plasma experiments, theoretical and computational plasma research, and plasma science education.

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