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University of Iowa News Release

June 7, 2006

UI Plasma Physics Researchers Receive $1.85 Million To Conduct Four Projects

The University of Iowa Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has won $1.85 million to conduct four projects as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) and Department of Energy (DOE) collaboration on basic plasma physics.

Researchers from the UI department's plasma physics group, whose doctoral program was recently ranked sixth-best in the nation among public universities by U.S. News & World Report, will explore four separate research areas: basic research in dusty plasmas, plasma turbulence, magnetic reconnection, and Alfven wave physics.

Assistant Professor Bill Daughton, along with Professor Jack Scudder, were awarded $300,000 to examine the influence of electron kinetic effects on magnetic reconnection, a basic plasma process that rapidly converts magnetic field energy into kinetic energy. The research will employ an innovative new simulation technique to help researchers better understand the physics of the process, which has widespread application in space, laboratory and astrophysical plasmas. As part of the work, the UI team will collaborate with Dr. Homa Karimabadi of the University of California at San Diego.

Professor John Goree was awarded $609,000 for "Strongly-Coupled Dusty Plasmas," a project that will employ plasmas that behave entirely unlike ordinary plasmas. Plasmas are often described as the fourth state of matter (after solids, liquids and gases), because they are hotter than gases and their electrically charged atoms are moving faster. In Goree's experiments, charged plastic microspheres dropped into a plasma move about slowly, like atoms in a solid or a liquid. His team of laboratory experimenters uses video cameras to track these microspheres as they move about. Ordinary solids and liquids don't allow this, because they are composed of submicroscopic atoms, which, unlike Goree's microspheres, are impossible to image using video cameras. His research includes collaboration with investigators in Germany and Hungary.

Professor Fred Skiff was awarded $450,000 to conduct experiments on the fundamental statistical mechanics of plasmas. In his UI laboratory, Skiff has built a device for measuring the correlations of plasma fluctuations using sub-Doppler laser spectroscopy. Understanding fluctuations is crucial to understanding how energy is transported through ionized gases in space, as well as in plasmas used for fusion energy. His previous measurements revealed a new kind of plasma wave that had escaped detection by conventional techniques. The new grant will allow him to add extensions to his laser techniques involving multiple laser beams.

Professor Craig Kletzing, along with Skiff and Scott Bounds, assistant research scientist, were awarded $488,000 to conduct experiments on the properties of Alfven waves using UCLA's Large Plasma Device. Alfven waves are thought to play a key role in creating the aurora borealis. The research is complemented by Kletzing's and Bound's continuing auroral physics research using NASA sounding rockets. As part of this work, the UI team will also collaborate with Dr. Li-Jen Chen of the University of New Hampshire, who will contribute theoretical calculations to the study.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009, gary-galluzzo@uiowa.edu