National Academies Press: OpenBook

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


Suggested Citation:"FUNDING FOR PLASMA ASTROPHYSICS." National Research Council. 1995. Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4936.
Page 126

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PLASMA ASTROPHYSICS 126 often have too technological an orientation to attract astrophysics students. Some plasma physics may or may not be integrated into one or more of the astrophysics courses, depending on the inclination of the instructor. Therefore, very few astrophysics students receive much formal exposure to plasma physics, and many astrophysicists view it as an arcane specialty. Many astrophysicists would like to learn more plasma physics when motivated to do so by developments in their subject. For example, recent measurements of magnetic field strengths in dense, star-forming interstellar clouds have shown that the fields are large enough to strongly affect or even dominate the dynamics. This has spawned a real interest in MHD among interstellar medium researchers, and a number of people who ignored magnetic fields throughout most of their careers are now writing papers on them. Such people would benefit from a good, modern text on plasma physics, one not oriented toward fusion plasmas, but stressing astrophysically interesting applications and using astrophysically relevant parameters and boundary conditions. Such a book could consist of chapters contributed by experts, provided that a good editor and refereeing system kept the quality high. Such a book could also be used for a graduate course or seminar. FUNDING FOR PLASMA ASTROPHYSICS Most plasma astrophysics by individual investigators is funded through the NSF and NASA. Some solar and space plasma physics has been funded by the Air Force and the Office of Naval Research, and some DOE funding has arrived through support for national centers. Plasma astrophysics funding at the NSF suffers from a problem common to all of theoretical astrophysics: programs are organized by wavelength band or class or object, rather than by physical process. This discourages broad proposals. Yet, one of the exciting aspects of plasma astrophysics is that the same processes are at work under many different astrophysical conditions. Both the 1980 and 1990 NAS-sponsored decadal surveys of astrophysics (the Field1 and Bahcall2 Committees, respectively) recommended that the NSF establish a theoretical astrophysics program. With the notable and important exceptions of its Astrophysical Theory and Space Physics Theory programs, NASA tends to support research focused on its missions. This has led to better support for space plasma physics, where much of the data is mission-relevant, than it has for plasma astrophysics, where fund 1 National Research Council, Astronomy Survey Committee, Astronomyand Astrophysics for the 1980s, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1982. 2 National Research Council, Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee, The Decade of Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1991.

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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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