National Academies Press: OpenBook

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


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Suggested Citation:"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.
Page 172
Suggested Citation:"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.
Page 173

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THEORETICAL AND COMPUTATIONAL PLASMA PHYSICS 172 lead to the formation of charged-particle beams, which are commonly observed. Particles on chaotic orbits also contribute significantly to the self-consistent current density responsible for the magnetic distention. If chaotic orbits are important, they must also certainly impact collective kinetic phenomena. Study of this subject is still in its infancy. It is quite plausible that similar physics takes place in the other boundary layers mentioned earlier in this section. Summary To summarize, space plasma physics has reached a mature phase. Space plasma physics has passed through the exploratory phase and is beginning an era of understanding. Future efforts will focus on the details of specific structures and processes. Theory and modeling at all levels have become a routine element of missions. As the morphology of and scientific basis for structures and processes become clearer, it is important that a basic understanding of the underlying plasma physics be pursued directly by relevant laboratory simulations, to test quantitatively and in detail the predictions of new theories as they become available. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Plasma physics is the study of collective processes in many-body charged particle systems. The state of such a system departs considerably from the strictly thermodynamic equilibrium state. The understanding of collective processes is the central goal of theoretical plasma physics. There have been significant advances in theoretical and computational plasma physics during the past decade. Priority should be assigned to the research opportunities of high intellectual challenge identified earlier in this chapter. In the remainder of this section, the panel presents a succinct summary of principal findings and recommendations. Fusion, space exploration, and defense applications have been the engines of high national priority that have powered fundamental advances in plasma theory and computational plasma physics. In turn, the improved understanding of basic plasma processes has led to the seminal development of important new concepts and applications. The panel recommends that a vigorous program in plasma theory and modeling efforts in fusion and space exploration should be continued. This is essential for continued progress in the interpretation of experiments and the development of new concepts in these important national programs. Support for individual university investigators to explore fundamental plasma theory and innovative concepts is at precariously low levels. This situation threatens the continued development and nurturing of the very intellectual foundations of modern plasma theory.

THEORETICAL AND COMPUTATIONAL PLASMA PHYSICS 173 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: 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. 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.

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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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