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Plasma and Space Physics

The WVU Plasma and Space Physics group studies the fourth state of matter. Many substances when heated from a low temperature go through a succession of states: solid, liquid, gas, and finally plasma. In a plasma, charged particles can coexist separately without recombining, sometimes also coexisting with neutral particles. Typically they consist of negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions, but may include negatively charged ions, negatively charged dust, positrons, etc. At high temperatures, all matter is in the plasma state. Plasmas encompass scales ranging from the atomic to the galactic. Plasma science has rich and diverse applications, including many that have emerged only within the past two decades. For an excellent summary of plasma science and technology, see the recent U.S. National Academy of Sciences plasma science report,  "Plasma Science: Enabling Technology, Sustainability, Security, and Exploration" (2021).

West Virginia University's plasma research program has concentrated on basic problems of plasma behavior that are relevant to the understanding of processes that occur naturally in space plasmas and in magnetically confined fusion plasmas.  Cutting edge laboratory facilities include sophisticated plasma devices for generating plasmas and modern instrumentation for measuring plasma properties.

WVU Plasma and Space Physics Research Group, 2019      WVU Plasma and Space Physics faculty in 2019

Above: The WVU Plasma and Space Physics faculty in 2019Not shown: Vladimir Demidov, Fang Fang, Julian Schulze.


Photo of Katherine Goodrich

Prof. Katherine Goodrich
Assistant Professor

Katy received her Ph.D. in space physics from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2017. She worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California in Berkeley from 2018 to 2020. Her research interests include microphysics of collisionless shocks in space, structures that arise from plasma turbulence, and wave-particle interactions in various space environments. She also works to develop instrumentation and data analysis techniques to measure electric fields in space. She currently works with the NASA funded missions Magnetospheric Multi-scale (MMS) and Parker Solar Probe (PSP). Using the data from these missions, Katy can examine the smallest workings of space plasma from the Earth’s magnetosphere, to the solar wind, to Venus! 

Mark Koepke 

Prof. Mark E. Koepke
Personal Webpage 

M ark receiv e d a Ph.D. in experimental plasma physics from the University of Maryland in 1984 for the experimental verification of bounce-resonance damping and work on the drift-cyclotron loss-cone instability. He then moved to the University of Washington where he experimentally studied the equilibria and stability of high-beta stellarator configurations. Upon his arrival in 1987 at West Virginia University, he developed a research program and a plasma physics curriculum for training students in the subject of plasma waves and instabilities. Since then, he has built two Q machines, on which he launched a space-plasma-related research theme and assembled a laser-induced fluorescence system for diagnosing plasmas. He and his group experimentally proved the existence of various velocity-shear driven waves, experimentally verified D. Knudsen's stationary inertial Alfven waves, and discovered the phenomenon of dynamics modulation. He also works on (1) temporal, spatial, and spatiotemporal nonlinear driven-oscillator phenomena and dynamical complexity, (2) cyclotron, whistler-mode, and Alfven waves., and (3) dust-grain infiltrated plasmas. In addition to this, he teaches courses in introductory physics in addition to the courses in plasma physics

Earl Scime
Prof. Earl Scime
Oleg Jefimenko Distinguished Professor
Personal Webpage 

Earl is experienced in both laboratory and space plasmas. He has investigated high frequency turbulence and ion-cyclotron instabilities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and whistler heat flux driven instabilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory as a member of the Ulysses spacecraft plasma team. Since 1995 he has been faculty member of physics at West Virginia University and his ongoing research activities include: the development of novel techniques for imaging low energy neutrals from space and laboratory plasmas, space plasma instrument design, multi-photon fluorescence spectroscopy, magnetic reconnection, measurement of ion and electron velocity distributions at the kinetic scale, ionospheric plasmas, space debris detection, plasma thrusters, and plasma processing. At West Virginia University he has multiple experimental devices: PHASMA, SABER, SITH, and TIE.

Paul Cassak
Prof. Paul Cassak
Professor & Woodburn Fellow

Paul received a Ph.D. in theoretical and computational plasma physics from the University of Maryland in 2006. He was a postdoc at University of Delaware in 2007-8. His research focuses on magnetic reconnection and its applications using analytical techniques, large scale numerical simulations, and observational data as appropriate. Applications of reconnection are many; solar eruptions (flares and CMEs) and similar eruptions on other sun-like stars, substorms and solar wind-magnetospheric coupling in the geomagnetic magnetic field (relevant to the field of space weather), disruptive events in fusion plasmas, and various astrophysical settings.

Prof. Weichao Tu
Associate Professor
Personal Webpage 

Weichao received a Ph.D. in space physics from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2011. Then she worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory as a postdoc research associate from 2012 to 2015. Her research interests in space plasma physics are focused in the quantitative analysis and numerical modeling of energetic particles in space. She has developed and implemented various physics-based models to simulate the dynamics of relativistic particles in the Earth's radiation belts. Earth's radiation belts, also known as the Van Allen Radiation Belts, have important space weather applications since they present a hazardous radiative environment for spacecraft operating within. Weichao's research emphasis has been on the physical quantification of the source, loss, and transport rates of radiation belt particles, which directly contributes to the principal goal of the $686 million NASA Van Allen Probes Mission that was launched in August 2012.

Research Faculty

Vladimir Demidov
Dr. Vladimir Demidov
Research Professor
Vladimir received a Ph. D. in physics from St. Petersburg St University, Russia in 1981. He has many years of diverse experience in physics research and education. He has performed investigations of physics and chemistry of plasmas, plasma electronic devices, optics and spectroscopy, atomic and molecular physics, and lasers. He also has experience teaching in general and theoretical physics, different aspects of plasma physics, atomic and molecular physics, optics, mathematics, and computer algebra systems.

Photo of Chris Fowler
Dr. Chris Fowler
Research Assistant Professor
Chris is a planetary science researcher who analyzes in-situ plasma measurements obtained by spacecraft to understand the plasma environments at various planets in the solar system. His primary research interests include understanding the physical processes that energize the ionospheres of unmagnetized planets (in particular Mars and Venus), and how this energization can impact ionospheric escape to space. Chris is also interested in the comparative study of planetary ionospheres, with a focus on the phenomena driven by the collisional coupling between neutrals and ions in the lower ionospheres of Mars and Earth. Chris received his Ph.D. at the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2016 while working as part of the Langmuir Probe and Waves (LPW) instrument team on NASAs Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission. Currently, Chris is a member of the SupraThermal And Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) instrument on MAVEN and is heavily involved in instrument calibration and data product generation.

Thomas Steinberger
Dr. Thomas Steinberger
Research Assistant Professor
Thomas received his Ph.D. in Experimental Plasma Physics from West Virginia University in 2021. He previously served as a Postdoctoral Researcher for the Center for KINETIC Plasma Physics at West Virginia University. His Ph.D. work focused on diagnosing electric thruster- and fusion- relevant plasmas both at WVU and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he implemented a laser-based diagnostic on the Prototype Material Plasma Exposure eXperiment (Proto-MPEX). His present research pursues single- and multi-photon absorption laser spectroscopy diagnostics to measure ion and neutral velocity distribution functions in a range of cold gas and plasma systems.

Other Affiliated Researchers

  Photo of Fang Fang
Dr. Fang Fang
Adjunct Research Assistant Professor 
Fang received a Ph.D. in Atmospheric and Space Science from the University of Michigan in 2012. Then she worked at the High Altitude Observatory and University of Colorado at Boulder as postdoc researcher. Her research interest is in numerical simulations in solar magnetism, including interior dynamo models on the generation of magnetic cycles, magnetohydrodynamic simulations on the flux emergence forming solar active regions, and magnetic eruptions in the coronal region.

Amy Keesee

Prof. Amy Keesee
Adjunct Research Associate Professor
Research Website 

Amy received her Ph.D. in plasma physics from West Virginia University and her areas of expertise include laser-induced-fluorescence diagnosis of laboratory plasmas, particularly neutral atom components, plasma spectroscopy, collisional radiative modeling, and energetic neutral atom imaging of the Earth's magnetosphere. Currently, Amy leads the WVU plasma group's research program in the analysis of energetic neutral atom images from the TWINS spacecraft.

Julian Schulze
Dr. Julian Schulze
Independent Contractor

Julian received a Ph. D. in physics from the Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, in 2009. He spent one year as a postdoc at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary, in 2010/11. He also worked at Dublin City University, Ireland, and Nagoya University, Japan, as a visiting scientist. His research focuses on technological low temperature plasmas such as capacitively and inductively coupled radio frequency discharges. These plasmas are frequently used for etching and deposition processes on microscopic scales required for a variety of high technology applications ranging from the manufacturing of computer chips and solar cells to the creation of biocompatible surfaces. Julian studies the heating dynamics of different particle species in the plasmas (electrons, ions, neutral) to develop novel concepts to control their flux-energy distributions at boundary surfaces as a basis for enhanced control of plasma processing applications. In order to achieve this goal he combines experimental methods with numerical simulations and analytical modeling.