Computational Plasma Physics

As the capabilities of high-performance computers advance, the types of problems addressable via computation changes. A single simulation is able to simulate a longer period of time and study phenomena at more space scales. To realize this speedup, code must be able to run efficiently using many processors simultaneously. RF codes, micro-turbulence codes, extended-MHD codes, and transport codes are used to address different phenomena in magnetic confinement. Computational plasma physics theses from program graduates have included work that:

  • Solves a new set of (approximate) equations that describe some physical phenomena of interest
  • Solves an existing set of equations with an improved algorithm and faster computer to study an increased range of time and space scales
  • Builds on an existing code and uses it to perform new physics studies and validation with experiment

Areas of computational research include:

Experimental Plasma Physics

Graduate students in the program can work with faculty members and other PPPL scientists on a large number of experiments at PPPL and on the Princeton University campus. Experiments at the lab include, but are not limited to:

  • Lithium Tokamak Experiment - a device dedicated to the study of liquid lithium as a plasma-facing component.
  • Princeton FRC - a compact device that utilizes odd-parity radio-frequency rotating magnetic fields to heat electrons and drive azimuthal current in a cylindrical plasma column.
  • Magnetic Reconnection Experiment - a device designed to investigate the fundamental physics of magnetic field line reconnection, an important process in magnetized plasmas in space and in the laboratory.
  • Surface Science Lab - a lab at PPPL under Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor Bruce Koel dedicated to applying surface chemistry to solve relevant problems in fusion.
  • Magnetorotational Instability Experiment - a small laboratory experiment to investigate the physics of the magnetorotational instability in liquid gallium.
  • Liquid Metal Experiment - a small-scale laboratory experiment using liquid gallium alloy designed to study free-surface MHD stability and wave propagation
  • Hall Thruster Experiment - an experiment that studies the physics involved in the operation of Hall thrusters and explores new configurations of crossed field plasma devices.
  • National Spherical Torus Experiment Upgrade - a spherical tokamak with the goal of establishing the potential of the ST configuration as a means of achieving practical fusion energy and to contribute to the scientific understanding of magnetic confinement.

Theoretical Plasma Physics

Areas of theoretical plasma physics research at PPPL include magnetic fusion energy (turbulence and transport, MHD, kinetic theory, RF physics), inertial fusion energy, high-intensity beam physics, high energy density physics, and space and astrophysical plasma physics. Goals of theoretical plasma physics include developing a theoretical understanding of experiments, developing new theoretical tools and algorithms for better understanding, and designing new, better devices for plasma heating, plasma confinement, and more.