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Suggested Citation:"INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND." 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 131
Suggested Citation:"INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND." 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 132

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BASIC PLASMA EXPERIMENTS 131 8 Basic Plasma Experiments INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND Plasma physics deals with the behavior of many-body systems under the influence of long-range Coulombic forces. Plasmas are inherently nonlinear media and, in the presence of a magnetic field, they are also anisotropic. Consequently, plasmas are capable of sustaining a wide variety of waves and instabilities. Plasmas can support three-dimensional currents and exhibit nonlocal behavior and "memory effects" (e.g., within the particle distribution functions). Plasma instabilities can lead to chaotic particle motions, to intricate wave dynamics, and to turbulence. Thus, understanding plasma phenomena involves fundamental aspects of statistical mechanics, fluid dynamics, electrodynamics, and frequently, atomic physics. Progress in basic science has historically relied on a close interaction between experiment and theory. This is particularly true of plasma physics, where nonlinear and nonequilibrium phenomena in many-body systems are of central importance. In striking contrast to the central importance of laboratory experiments to this field, it is the finding of the panel that activity in and support for basic experiments has decreased markedly over the last two decades. For example, at the 1973 plasma physics division meeting of the American Physical Society, there were 126 papers on basic experimental plasma physics. In contrast, at the 1992 meeting, there was no general session on basic laboratory experiments, and there was only one poster session on laboratory experiments related to space plasmas. At this meeting, there were only about 30 experimental papers on basic plasma physics that were not related to a particular application,

BASIC PLASMA EXPERIMENTS 132 and half of these papers were on nonneutral plasmas. It is the conclusion of the panel that the level of activity in basic plasma experiment in the past 20 years almost certainly has been lower than it would have been if there had been in place a well-planned and balanced program in basic plasma science in the United States. The danger is that basic experimental plasma science will disappear in this country, unless one or more funding agencies assume the responsibility to support a critical mass of scientists in this area. A survey of the plasma science community in the United States, conducted by the panel, shows that renewed support for basic laboratory plasma experiments is its highest priority. The panel has come to this same conclusion: The highest priority in establishing a healthy plasma science in the United States is renewed support for basic experimental research in plasma science. This conclusion coincides with the principal findings of the Brinkman report, Physics Through the 1990s:1 Direct support for basic laboratory plasma-physics research has practically vanished in the United States. The number of fundamental investigations of plasma behavior in research centers is small, and only a handful of universities receive support for basic research in plasma physics. A striking example is the minimal support for basic research in laboratory plasmas by the National Science Foundation.… Because fundamental understanding of plasma properties precedes the discovery of new applications, and because basic plasma research can be expected to lead to exciting new discoveries, increased support for basic research in plasma physics is strongly recommended. Support for basic plasma experimental research can be expected to serve an important educational function as well. University-scale experimental research programs in basic plasma science provide an excellent opportunity to train students in a variety of disciplines and techniques that are of importance in modern science and technology. The chapters in Part II describe plasma physics experiments relevant to low-temperature and nonneutral plasmas, beams and radiation sources, and space and fusion plasmas. While many of these experimental studies have contributed significantly to our understanding of basic plasma science, they were often constrained by programmatic goals and by the plasma devices and plasma regimes relevant to a particular application. In this chapter, we focus specifically on what we have termed basic plasma experiments, whose primary goal is to isolate and study fundamental plasma phenomena in the simplest and most flexible situation possible. The objective of these experiments is to test our understanding of fundamental plasma phenomena, quantitatively and over the widest pos 1 National Research Council, Plasmas and Fluids, in the series PhysicsThrough the 1990s, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1986.

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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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