Sandia National Laboratories is establishing a collaborative facility to help researchers worldwide study low-temperature plasmas, the most pervasive state of matter in the universe.
The 5-year, $5.5 million project, called the Sandia Low Temperature Plasma Research Facility, is sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Participants will be selected biannually by Sandia and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, where a similar collaborative facility is being established by the DOE.
Low-temperature plasma—a state of matter along with solids, liquids and gases—consists of gaseous mixtures of ions and electrons that interact with background neutral atoms or molecules to make them reactive. It also generates energetic photons.
This relentless activity means there’s no shortage of plasmas to study. They can decontaminate surfaces, decompose materials and strengthen a wide range of catalysis-aided industrial reactions. Medically, they offer new tools to cut and heal tissues. Plasma makes metal arc welding possible and lights up plasma lamps.
On a much larger scale, the ionosphere wrapping the Earth is a plasma that carries large electric currents in the polar regions. And low-pressure, collisionless plasmas that generate little heat are of interest to astrophysicists studying the plasmas hanging out between stars.
Tools available to visiting scientists to analyze plasma behavior include nanosecond (a billionth of a second), picosecond (a trillionth of a second) and femtosecond (one millionth of one billionth of a second) laser systems, picosecond-shuttered cameras, massively parallel computers to simulate the range from vacuum to atmospheric-pressure plasma, a wide variety of spectrometers and the equipment needed to build or incorporate a broad range of plasma sources and operating conditions.
Sandia researchers expect to engage with scientific collaborators to design, set up and execute proof-of-principle studies to enable participants to further their research objectives and analyze data generated during the collaboration.