Testing Plasma TheoriesCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: August 15, 2012 03:47AM
Plasma research has been increasing in importance of late as work on creating nuclear fusion reactors intensifies. The plasmas needed for nuclear fusion are superhot and super dense, which makes them difficult to study, but researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Oxford University, and many other institutions have done just that thanks to the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-Ray laser.
While making the 2 million Kelvin plasma may seem like the harder part of this experiment that has been accomplished before. The challenge is in actually collecting data from the plasma but the precisely tuned LCLS laser was able to cut through the chaos and gather valuable information like the energy required to knock out electrons from highly charged atoms. What the researchers found however is actually quite important as it shows the currently used model for such extreme plasmas is incorrect. Ironically, a model developed in 1963, three years before the current model was developed, is more accurate, but even it is not sophisticated enough.
The researchers hope that their results will spur others on to developing a new model that more accurately represents the plasma we want to use for nuclear fusion. Without an accurate model, it will be impossible to study these plasmas in the virtual environment of computers, which are much easier to work with than something hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the Sun.