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Physics of High Energy Plasmas


High energy astrophysics has blossomed in recent years and continues to produce unexpected results whose interpretation involves the consideration of new kinds of plasmas.

Our research program, Physics of High Energy Plasmas, addresses a broad spectrum of subjects in areas that are relevant to basic plasma physics, nuclear fusion research, astrophysics and space physics. Specifically, we are concerned with in identifying the properties and dynamics of plasmas that are dominated by collective modes emphasizing fusion burning plasmas, with special consideration for the upcoming generation of relevant experiments, and high energy astrophysical plasmas.

We are involved in envisioning new kinds of fusion experiments and are committed to leading the effort to advance the line of high field compact experiments that are represented by the Alcator, the Frascati Torus, and the Ignitor programs that have originated from our effort. We also continue to pursue the study of experiments that can be designed on the basis of present day technologies, to investigate the fusion burning conditions of tritium-poor deuterium plasmas, or deuterium-helium3 plasmas.

High energy astrophysics has blossomed in recent years and continues to produce unexpected results whose interpretation involves the consideration of new kinds of plasmas. As an example, this is particularly necessary for the understanding of phenomena related to processes occurring in the vicinity of black holes, such as the so- called Quasi-Periodic Oscillations of the relevant X-ray emission for which a combination of General Relativity and advanced plasma physics is required.

In the same context, we have identified differentially rotating plasma structures (sequences of rings) that can exist around compact astrophysical objects and are substantially different from the familiar disks that are based on gas dynamics considerations. We have been concerned with plasma collective processes such as characteristic tri-dimensional spirals that can produce significant rates of angular momentum transport, an issue that is important to explain the rates of accretion of matter associated with the (high energy) luminosities of a wide class of objects.

The theories that have been developed to explain relevant laboratory experiments are used as form of guidance in this effort. In particular, we have provided an explanation for the “spontaneous rotation” phenomenon that has been observed in a large class of magnetically confined plasmas and formulated a transport equation for angular momentum (“classical” viscosity is not adequate) that has been repeatedly validated by significant experiments carried out around the world.

Another area of activity concerns the theory of magnetic reconnection (destruction of magnetic field topologies in high energy plasmas) that is involved in a variety of phenomena occurring in laboratory, space and astrophysical plasmas.

Computational power and experimental measurements are steadily improving towards the point where simulations can make quantitative and testable predictions about plasma behavior. Therefore, we have been actively involved in the development of relevant computational plasma physics and have pursued a longstanding interest in the nonlinear numerical simulation of global plasmas in three (spatial) dimensions. In particular, we are concerned with developing models and applying them to experiments and to basic theoretical issues.

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