Research Area: Plasma Science

Plasma is an ionized gas, often referred to as “the fourth state of matter.”

Much like gas, plasma has no defined shape or boundary so it freely assumes the shape of its container. Unlike gas, plasma interacts with magnetic and electric fields, which can be configured to accelerate, compress, and manipulate plasmas. Plasma Science research at the UW  Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics is focused on achieving a stable fusion reaction that might one day be a sustainable source for clean, green energy and deep space propulsion. 

Our labs boast some of the most innovative approaches to this challenge. The Z-pinch process uses an electric current to magnetically confine, compress, and heat a long cylinder of flowing plasma. By eliminating the need for magnetic field coils, this design suggests that fusion power can be harnessed in a low-mass system that would be far more accessible, cost-effective, and versatile than previously imagined. The Mochi experiment simulates the formation and sustainment of an astrophysical jet so students and faculty can investigate plasma space propulsion concepts in a laboratory setting. The UW ‘Dynomak’ reactor creates a magnetic field within a closed space to hold plasma in place long enough for fusion to occur then recycles the heat to be largely self-sustaining.

Research in this field has applications in energy (power generation), electronics (microchip production), and space travel (plasma thrusters). 


Plasma Faculty

Research Topics

  • Computational Plasma Dynamics - Shumlak
  • Fusion Energy - Jarboe, Shumlak
  • Finite Element Methods - Shumlak
  • Electric Propulsion / Space Propulsion -  Jarboe, Shumlak, Little
  • Plasma Physics / Plasma Science - Jarboe, Shumlak, Little
  • Small Satellites / Space Systems - Little