DOE puts $9.35 million toward high-energy-density plasma research

July 29, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News
Invisible infrared light from the 200-trillion-watt Trident Laser at Los Alamos National Laboratory interacts with a 1-micrometer thick foil target (in the center of the photo) to generate a high-energy-density plasma. (Photo: Joseph Cowan and Kirk Flippo, LANL)

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE-SC) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on July 27 announced $9.35 million for 21 research projects in high-energy-density laboratory plasmas. High-energy-density (HED) plasma research, originally developed to support the U.S. nuclear weapons program, has applications in astrophysics, fusion power plant development, medicine, nuclear and particle physics, and radioisotope production.

A collaboration: U.S. HED research is managed by the NNSA and the DOE-SC Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) program. The Joint Program in High-Energy Density Laboratory Plasmas, established by the DOE-SC and the NNSA, coordinated the selection of research projects.

“This joint program between SC and NNSA is an excellent example of leveraging resources within the Department of Energy to advance discovery-driven science,” said James Van Dam, associate director of science for FES. “These projects at the frontier of high-energy-density plasma science also have the potential for advancing our nation’s industrial capabilities and homeland security.”

The scope: The projects were selected by competitive peer review under a DOE funding opportunity announcement. Total funding includes $7.95 million in fiscal year 2021 for research projects of up to three years in duration, with $1.4 million in out-year funding contingent on congressional appropriations.

Funded research will investigate the physics of magnetic reconnection that drives flares in stars and accelerates particles in astrophysical jets, explore the physical properties of plasmas with applications in fusion energy and planetary sciences, enable novel accelerators, and lead to innovative technologies.

What is HED plasma? HED plasma research explores the behavior of ionized matter at extreme conditions of temperature, density, or pressure. While ordinary plasmas are one of the four basic states of matter, along with solids, gases, and liquids, HED plasmas are an exotic state of matter that may, for example, simultaneously behave like a solid and a gas. HED plasmas are found in astrophysical events such as the birth of stars, in laboratory fusion experiments, and in nuclear weapons explosions.

To create and study HED plasmas, researchers compress materials in solid or liquid form or bombard them with high-energy particles or photons. The petawatt-class lasers used in HED plasma laboratories are so high-powered, according to the DOE, that they generate instantaneous power levels equivalent to the output of the entire U.S. electrical grid.

And the awards go to: Awards have been made to researchers from Colorado State University, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ohio State University, Polymath Research, Princeton University, Prism Computational Sciences, the University of California–Berkeley, the University of California–San Diego, the University of Michigan, the University of Nevada–Reno, the University of Texas–Austin, and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Some of the listed institutions received multiple awards.

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