Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have discovered a new method by which magnetized plasma can be classified, a theory that would help in harvesting fusion energy that powers the sun and the stars. The theoristsdiscovered magnetized plasma has 10 phases, with the transition between them having prospects for practical development.
According to the study, the spatial boundaries and transitions that occurs between the phases has the tendency to support wave excitations.
Yichen Fu, a graduate student at PPPL and lead author of a paper in Nature Communications that outlines the research, had this to say about their findings:
“These findings could lead to possible applications of these exotic excitations in space and laboratory plasmas. The next step is to explore what these excitations could do and how they might be utilized.”
What are the possible applications of this study?
One of the possible ways the new discovery can be applied is the use of excitations to produce current in the facilitating plasma rotation in fusion research.
Co-author of the paper and a physicist, Hong Qin analyzed the theory when he opined that thepaper doesn’t consider any practical applications, but that the paper is the basic theory and the technology will follow the theoretical understanding.
In fact, “the discovery of the 10 phases in plasma marks a primary development in plasma physics,” Qin said. “The first and foremost step in any scientific endeavor is to classify the objects under investigation. Any new classification scheme will lead to improvement in our theoretical understanding and subsequent advances in technology,” he said.
He further cited the discovery of the major diabetes types and one of the examples of classification roles in making progress in science.
In his words:
“When developing treatments for diabetes, scientists found that there were three major types,” he said. “Now medical practitioners can effectively treat diabetic patients.”
Fusion combines light elements in the form of plasma together with the charged state of matter that comprises of free electrons and atomic nuclei to release a large amount of energy, using it to serve as a safe and clean source of power for electricity generation. It is of note that atomic nuclei make up about 99 percent of the visible universe.
The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratorytheorists uncovered the plasma phases that werelater dubbed ‘topological phases’, implying the shape of the plasma supporting waves.
According to Qin, the production of plasma waves by phase transitions are robust and intrinsic due to the fact that they are ‘topologically related’. In his words: . “The discovery that this topologically protected excitation exists in magnetized plasmas is a big step forward that can be explored for practical applications”.
Fu, the first author of the project summed it up when he said:
“The most important progress in the paper is looking at plasma based on its topological properties and identifying its topological phases. Based on these phases we identify the necessary and sufficient condition for the excitations of these localized waves. As for how this progress can be applied to facilitate fusion energy research, we have to find out.”
Reference: “Topological phases and bulk-edge correspondence of magnetized cold plasmas” by Yichen Fu and Hong Qin, 24 June 2021, Nature Communications.