The discovery of 10 faces of the plasma leads to new knowledge in fusion and plasma science »4State News MO AR KS OK

Scientists have discovered a novel way to classify magnetized plasmas that could potentially lead to advances in the extraction of the fusion energy on Earth that powers the sun and stars. The discovery by theorists at the US Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) revealed that a magnetized plasma has 10 unique phases and the transitions between them could have rich implications in practical development.

The spatial boundaries or transitions between different phases will support localized wave excitations, the researchers found. “These results could lead to possible applications of these exotic stimuli in space and laboratory plasmas,” said Yichen Fu, PhD student at PPPL and lead author of an article in Nature Communications outlining the research. “The next step is to examine what these suggestions are doing and how they could be used.”

Possible applications

Possible applications are the use of the stimuli to generate electricity in magnetic fusion plasmas or the facilitation of plasma rotation in fusion experiments. “However, our paper does not consider practical applications,” said physicist Hong Qin, co-author of the paper and advisor to Fu. “The paper is the basic theory and the technology will follow the theoretical understanding.”

Indeed, “the discovery of the 10 phases in plasma marks a fundamental development in plasma physics,” said Qin. “The first and most important step of any scientific work is the classification of the objects examined. Any new classification scheme will lead to an improvement in our theoretical understanding and subsequent technological advances, ”he said.

Qin cites the discovery of the most important types of diabetes as an example of the role of classification in scientific progress. “In developing treatments for diabetes, scientists found there were three main types,” he said. “Now medical professionals can effectively treat diabetics.”

The fusion that scientists around the world plan to create on Earth combines light elements in the form of plasma – the hot, charged state of matter made up of free electrons and atomic nuclei that make up 99 percent of the visible universe – to form massive ones . release amounts of energy. This energy could serve as a safe and clean source of energy for generating electricity.

The plasma phases discovered by PPPL are technically known as “topological phases” and indicate the shapes of the waves supported by the plasma. This unique property of matter was first discovered in condensed matter physics in the 1970s – a discovery for which Princeton University physicist Duncan Haldane received the Nobel Prize in 2016 for his groundbreaking work.

Robust and intrinsic

The localized plasma waves generated by phase transitions are robust and intrinsic because they are “topologically protected,” Qin said. “The discovery that this topologically protected excitation exists in magnetized plasmas is a major advance that can be explored for practical applications,” he said.

For first author Fu: “The most important advance in the work is to study plasma based on its topological properties and to identify its topological phases. Based on these phases, we identify the necessary and sufficient condition for the excitation of these localized waves. We have to find out how this progress can be used to facilitate fusion energy research. “


The DOE Office of Science (FES) supported this work.

PPPL, located on Princeton University’s Forrestal campus in Plainsboro, NJ, is dedicated to discovering new insights into the physics of plasmas – ultra-hot, charged gases – and developing practical solutions for generating fusion energy. The laboratory is administered by the University for the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the United States’ single largest contributor to basic research in the physical sciences and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. More information is available at

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