September 8, 2009

Scientist to study high-energy plasma

A University of Nevada-Reno scientist has received a U.S. Department of Energy grant to study high-energy plasma's role in astrophysics and other fields.

Professor Roberto Mancini, chairman of the school's physics department, said the $690,000 grant will further his studies into ultra-high temperature and non-equilibrium plasmas, researching what happens to matter around black holes.

Mancini will conduct some of his experiments with the pulsed-power machine at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico -- the most powerful source of X-rays on Earth.

We subject a very small cell -- a 1-inch by 1/2-inch cube -- filled with a gas, such as neon, to this tremendous, short burst of X-ray energy, he said. It's about 10 nanoseconds of the most intense power on Earth "“ creating conditions of hundreds of thousands of degrees and millions of atmospheres in pressure "“ in the form of X-rays.

Mancini said the plasma reaches extreme conditions, very unlike the low-energy plasma found in a neon light or a plasma television screen, with temperature as high as 100,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and ionization mainly driven by the action of the X-ray flux going through the plasma.

The researchers said they can then compare their computer modeling and calculations with the measurements of the extreme state of plasma created, which mimics the majority of matter found throughout the universe.