Studying Plasma to Save the Satellite
Galileo Galilei was the first man to observe Saturn’s rings. He wrote of the occasion, “I do not know what to say in a case so surprising, so unlooked for and so novel.”
Four hundred years later, questions remain about his discovery. How did these gigantic rings form around a planet? Why Saturn and not other planets? We know at least part of the answer, and Auburn scientists are figuring out the rest.
A plasma is a type of hot, electrically charged gas. Stars, the northern lights, and lightning are made of it.
Small microparticles trapped in plasmas have strange and wonderful properties because sometimes they behave like fluids and sometimes like gases. On small scales, these particles can be used to improve the properties of things like solar panels. On very large scales, these particles give you the spectacular patterns in Saturn’s rings.
Edward Thomas, Jr. and his students at Auburn’s Plasma Sciences Laboratory are uncovering how this happens. They’re looking at controlling plasmas by using electrodes to modify the flow of ions inside them, working to protect satellites from rogue electrons in the magnetosphere, and learning how to alter the basic properties of plasma using microparticles.
Thomas’ team is funded by a wide range of sources, from NSF to NASA. Some of their research is even funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Can the unique properties of plasmas protect our weather and communications satellites? Thomas and his team are finding the answer.
Dr. Edward Thomas, Jr.
My training is in both experimental and computational Plasma Physics. While both my MS and PhD focused on fusion-energy related studies, I currently pursue research in a diverse range of plasma sciences activities including fundamental studies thermal and transport properties of plasmas, space plasmas, and fusion plasmas.
For more information:
- Visit the Plasma Sciences Laboratory Web site
- Read Thomas’s article, “Measurements of a spatially growing dust acoustic wave in a dc glow discharge plasma” in Physics of Plasmas (PDF)
- Read Thomas’ article, “Applications of stereoscopic particle image velocimetry: dust acoustic waves and velocity space distribution functions” in Physics of Plasmas (PDF)