National Academies Press: OpenBook

Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications (1995)


Suggested Citation:"CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1995. Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4936.
Suggested Citation:"CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1995. Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4936.
Suggested Citation:"CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS." National Research Council. 1995. Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4936.

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 28 3. There is a need for increased coordination of federally funded plasma science research. These conclusions coincide with the principal findings and recommendations of the Brinkman report,5 which was an overall assessment of the future of plasma physics in the United States: Direct support for basic laboratory plasma-physics research has practically vanished in the United States. The number of fundamental investigations of plasma behavior in research centers is small, and only a handful of universities receive support for basic research in plasma physics. A striking example is the minimal support for basic research in laboratory plasmas by the National Science Foundation.… Because fundamental understanding of plasma properties precedes the discovery of new applications, and because basic plasma research can be expected to lead to exciting new discoveries, increased support for basic research in plasma physics is strongly recommended. If anything, the state of basic plasma science has worsened in the nine years since the Brinkman report was published. This situation can be remedied only by the creation of a coherent and coordinated plan for the support of the basic plasma science. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Ongoing research and development programs in the United States have produced important advances in plasma-related science and technology. Plasma science holds promise of further progress in the future, including advanced methods of processing materials, better methods for cleaning up environmental hazards and mitigating the effects of deleterious chemicals, new methods of accelerating particles and producing electromagnetic radiation, progress toward fusion energy, and improved understanding of our space environment and the astrophysical media of the universe. Thus, plasma science can have a significant impact on many disciplines and technologies, including those directly linked to industrial growth. This impact, however, is critically dependent on the support of basic plasma science. It will be important to effect some shift of research funds to this area because of its close relation to applications. To properly pursue its potential, the United States must create and maintain a coherent and coordinated program of research and technological development in plasma science. Currently, support for basic plasma science is mostly for small programs, found in many agencies, and not coordinated among agencies. The Department of Energy has large programs in the development of fusion energy, by both magnetic and inertial confinement schemes, but it has no unit in 5 See footnote 2, p. 15.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 29 the Basic Energy Sciences Division to provide support for the study of the fundamentals of plasma science. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is viewed as the supporter of basic science in universities, and there are several quite small plasma programs scattered throughout the agency. However, basic plasma science has no identified home in NSF and, thus, no specified coordinating and review point and no sponsor. Below, the panel recommends increased support of university-scale experimental research in basic plasma science in the amount of $15 million per year. The justification for this amount is discussed above and in Chapter 8, Basic Plasma Experiments. Although it may seem that this could have only a small influence on a field with an annual budget in excess of $400 million, the expenditure on other than the largest applications, fusion and space plasmas, is less than 10% of this amount. Consequently, an investment of $15 million on basic experiments can be expected to provide an important stimulus to the entire field. It can also be expected to have a multiplicative effect in that the results in basic plasma research will provide the foundation for research more closely related to all of the applications, including space and fusion. While many successful programs in plasma science are currently under way, there is a lack of support for the basic aspects of plasma research, particularly where the payoff to a specific program cannot be justified in the near term. The development of plasma science would be improved substantially by its recognition as a scientific discipline. Given these findings and conclusions, the panel recommends the following six actions: 1. To reinvigorate basic plasma science in the most efficient and cost- effective way, emphasis should be placed on university-scale research programs. 2. To ensure the continued availability of the basic knowledge that is needed for the development of applications, the National Science Foundation should provide increased support for basic plasma science. 3. To aid the development of fusion and other energy-related programs now supported by the Department of Energy, the Office of Basic Energy Sciences, with the cooperation of the Office of Fusion Energy, should provide increased support for basic experimental plasma science. Such emphasis would leverage the DOE's present investment in plasma science and would strengthen investigations in other energy- related areas of plasma science and technology. 4. Approximately $15 million per year for university-scale experiments should be provided, and continued in future years, to effectively redress the current lack of support for fundamental plasma science, which is a central concern of this report. Furthermore, individual- investigator and small-group research, including theory and modeling as well as experiments, needs special help, and small amounts of funding could be life-saving. Funding for these

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 30 activities should come from existing programs that depend on plasma science. A reassessment of the relative allocation of funds between larger, focused research programs and individual-investigator and small-group activities should be undertaken. 5. The agencies supporting plasma science should cooperate to coordinate plasma science policy and funding. 6. Members of the plasma community in industry and academe should work aggressively for tenure-track recognition of plasma science as an academic discipline, and work with university faculty and administrators to provide courses in basic plasma science at the senior undergraduate level.

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Plasma science is the study of ionized states of matter. This book discusses the field's potential contributions to society and recommends actions that would optimize those contributions. It includes an assessment of the field's scientific and technological status as well as a discussion of broad themes such as fundamental plasma experiments, theoretical and computational plasma research, and plasma science education.

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