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Plasma Science

We lead plasma science research, 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

Two photos next to each other, both showing the prototype reactor. On the left has the injectors (three arcs in the middle of the reactor) highlighted, the right is busier but shows a more zoomed out photo with the injectors and the transmission lines labeled.

Fri, 07/23/2021 | UW News

Gaming graphics card allows faster, more precise control of fusion energy experiments

A&A researchers are borrowing advances from computer gaming, using a GPU to control their prototype fusion reactor.

Zap Energy Photo

Wed, 05/26/2021 | GeekWire

Seattle startup ZaP Energy lands $27.5M to build commercial fusion reactor without magnets

A&A's Flow Z-Pinch Lab spinoff ZaP Energy has landed $27.5M to build commercial reactor without magnets.

Michelle Graebner

Mon, 04/12/2021 | UW Aero & Astro

Graebner wins AIAA first place for Z pinch research

Undergraduate Michelle Graebner wins first for her work on the potential application of a Z pinch for space travel.

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.