Thursday, May 31, 2007

NAS Report Claims A "Spectacular Future" In Plasma Science

May 29: A new report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Research Council (NRC) entitled, Plasma Science: Advancing Knowledge in the National Interest, indicates that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science should reorient its research programs to promote plasma science research and create a focal point for federal efforts in that field. The report says that breakthroughs in plasma science have the potential to enhance national and economic security, energy production, and general scientific knowledge. In general, plasma science (the study of ionized gases) is critical to the development of fusion energy (involving the fusion of nuclei), which could be an abundant energy source in the future.

According to the report, "Plasma science is on the cusp of a new era. It is poised to make significant breakthroughs in the next decade that will transform the field. For example, the international magnetic fusion experiment, ITER, is expected to confine burning plasma for the first time -- a critical step on the road to commercial fusion. The National Ignition Facility (NIF) plans to ignite capsules of fusion fuel to acquire knowledge necessary to improve the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear stockpile. Low-temperature plasma applications are already ushering in new products and techniques that will change everyday lives. And plasma scientists are being called on to help crack the mysteries surrounding exotic phenomena in the cosmos. This dynamic future will be exciting, but also challenging for the field. It will demand a well-organized national plasma science enterprise. This report examines the broad themes that frame plasma research and offers a bold vision for the future."

The report concludes that, "The expanding scope of plasma research is creating an abundance of new scientific opportunities and challenges. These opportunities promise to further expand the role of plasma science in enhancing economic security and prosperity, energy and environmental security, national security, and scientific knowledge."

Access links to the complete report and an executive summary (
click here). Access further information from DOE's Office of Science (click here). [*Energy]