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Research

Plasma Science

UW Aeronautics & Astronautics is a leader in plasma science, focusing on achieving a stable fusion reaction that might one day be a sustainable source for clean 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 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. The SPACE Lab focuses on theoretical modeling and innovative experiment design to explore the plasma physics of electric thrusters and other space technologies.

Key research areas

  • Computational Plasma Dynamics
  • Fusion Energy 
  • Finite Element Methods
  • Electric / Space Propulsion 
  • Plasma Physics and Science
  • Small Satellites and Space Systems

Associated faculty

Research highlights

members of the FuZE Lab

The FuZE Lab measured a sustained nuclear fusion for the first time from a Z-pinch by using flows to stabilize plasma, a potential route for low-cost fusion in the future.

Collaborating with the UW eScience Institute, A&A will be applying data science methods to optimize the performance of an electric propulsion system.

Award highlights

Charlie Kelly

A&A’s Charlie Kelly won a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship for his research on “Revolutionizing Orbit Insertion with Magnetoshell Aerocapture.”

Uri Shumlak

Professor Uri Shumlak has been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society for pioneering investigations of sheared flow stabilization in the Z-pinch.

Related News

Wed, 09/02/2020 | UW Aero & Astro

A&A's fusion energy labs receive $3.5M

The funding moves us closer to initial commercialization for cost-competitive fusion energy.

Tue, 10/01/2019 | UW Aero & Astro

A&A professor Uri Shumlak elected American Physical Society Fellow

A&A's Uri Shumlak has been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society for his Z-pinch research.

Wed, 09/25/2019 | UW Aero & Astro

The College of Engineering remembers Fred Ribe, Professor Emeritus and pioneer in nuclear fusion

Fred Ribe was a pioneer in fusion energy research in the UW nuclear engineering department.

Thu, 05/02/2019 | UW Aero & Astro

A&A wins three awards at AIAA Region VI conference

A&A students won first in master's, first in team, and third in undergraduate at the AIAA Region VI Conference.