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Plasma and Space Physics

Investigating the behavior of the fourth state of matter

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.

Center for KINETIC Plasma Physics


Associated Faculty

  • Prof. Paul Cassak | Research Interests: Cassak's 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 evets in fusion plasma; and various astrophysical settings. Cassak is Associate Director of the WVU Center for KINETIC Plasma Physics.
  • Prof. Christopher Fowler | Research Interests: Fowler's work primarily focuses on 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. He 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. Currently, Fowler works on the SupraThermal And Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) instrument for the NASA MAVEN mission, and is heavily involved in instrument calibration and data product generation.
  • Prof. Katherine "Katy" Goodrich | Research Interests: Goodrich's 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 two NASA missions, Magnetospheric Multi-scale (MMS) and Parker Solar Probe (PSP). Using the data from these missions, Goodrich can examine the smallest workings of space plasma from the Earth's magnetosphere, to the solar wind, to Venus!
  • Prof. Mark E. Koepke | Research Interests: Koepke arrived at WVU in 1987 and developed a research program and curriculum for training students in the subject of plasma waves and instabilities. Since then, he has built two Q-machines and assembled a laser-induced fluorescence system for diagnosing plasmas. He and his group experimentally verified D. Knudsen's stationary inertial Alfven waves and discovered the phenomenon of dynamics modulation. He also works on temporal, spatial, and spatiotemporal nonlinear driven-oscillator phenomena and dynamical complexity, and dust-grain infiltrated plasmas.
  • Prof. Earl Scime | Research Interests: Scime 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 WVU. Scime's 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 WVU, he has multiple experimental devices: PHASMA, SABER, SITH, and TIE. Scime is the Director of the WVU Center for KINETIC Plasma Physics.
  • Prof. Weichao Tu | Research Interests: Tu's research is focused on the quantitative analysis and numerical modeling of energetic particles in space. She has developed and implemented various physics-based models to stimulate 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 application since they present a hazardous radiative environment for spacecraft operating within. Tu's research emphasis has been on the physical quantification of the source, loss, and transport rates of radiation belt particles, which directly contributed to the NASA Van Allen Probes Mission (2012-2019).

Collaborators

  • Vladimir Demidov | Research Interests: Demidov has many years of diversified 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 laser.
  • Fang Fang | Research Interests: Fang's research 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 | Research Interests: Keesee's 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, she leads the WVU Plasma Physics research program in analysis of energetic neutral atom images from the TWINS spacecraft.