New $10-million Department of Energy center to focus on plasma research
ANN ARBOR—A new center at the University of Michigan College of Engineering will enable fundamental research on low-temperature plasmas, ionized gases with vast potential for practical technological advancements in fields such as energy, lighting, microelectronics and medicine.
The Center for Predictive Control of Plasma Kinetics: Multi-phase and Bounded Systems is funded by a $10-million, 5-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The research that will be conducted at the center could lead to more efficient solar cells, finer-featured microchips and new medical tools that cut and heal tissues with plasma- activated chemistry, rather than heat, as lasers do. Plasma surgical tools could allow wounds to heal faster, said Mark Kushner, the George I. Haddad Collegiate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Kushner is the new center’s director.
Plasmas, which are a distinct state of matter, are found throughout the universe. They permeate interplanetary space. The sun is a high-temperature plasma. On Earth, low-temperature plasmas enable crisp, light-weight television displays as well as solar cells. They carve out the intricate features of silicon microchips, among many other applications.
Using experiments and computational models, researchers at the new center will investigate the science behind methods to best control the velocities of the charged particles in low-temperature plasmas. Controlling the velocities of the particles will allow them to direct the plasma’s energy, a vital step toward achieving these technological advancements, Kushner said.
“The flow of energy in a plasma is very complex and difficult to control,” Kushner said. “In a plasma, you put energy in one place and it comes out somewhere else. The question is: How can you focus the energy you put in to excite atoms, molecules and surfaces in ways that can eventually be used in technological devices? How can you configure it to prevent the energy from oozing out where you don’t want it to?”
Researchers can achieve this control by carefully crafting electric and magnetic fields and applying them to the plasma. The center will develop open source computer models that will allow researchers to enter a particular plasma configuration they want to create and receive information about what electric and magnetic fields they must apply to achieve those attributes.
“Low temperature plasmas create great societal benefits through the technologies they enable,” Kushner said. “This center will advance the fundamental science that will enable plasmas used in technical applications to provide even greater advancements in areas such as energy, materials and healthcare.”
The center is composed of researchers from nine other institutions: Ohio State University, the University of Minnesota, West Virginia University, the University of Houston, the University of California, Berkeley, Sandia National Laboratory, the University of Wisconsin, Princeton Plasma Physical Laboratory and the University of Maryland. Other U-M researchers involved are Iain Boyd, a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering; Alec Gallimore, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering; and Valery Godyak and Vladimir Kolobov, consultants and adjunct professors in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Kushner is also director of the Michigan Institute for Plasma Science and Engineering, which has close to 30 faculty members in units across the university, including physics, engineering, space science and mathematics.
The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. At more than $130 million annually, its engineering research budget is one of largest of any public university. Michigan Engineering is home to 11 academic departments and a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. The college plays a leading role in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and hosts the world class Lurie Nanofabrication Facility.
U-M Sustainability fosters a more sustainable world through collaborations across campus and beyond aimed at educating students, generating new knowledge, and minimizing our environmental footprint. Learn more at sustainability.umich.edu.
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