FINDING NEW TECHNIQUES: NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION GRANT FOR ULTRACOLD PLASMA PHYSICS RESEARCH
Ultracold neutral plasmas (UNPs), first discovered at NIST in 1999 offer a new window on the plasma state, which has potential implications for the pursuit of relatively clean nuclear fusion power. Since they are created by photoionizing translationally cold atoms, the initial ion and electron temperatures, as well as the ion density, can be controlled with high precision.
With this National Science Foundation grant of nearly $200K, Professor and Physicist Duncan Tate proposes to continue a research program he established at Colby on the dynamics of UNPs.
“It’s a field with a lot of promise that’s reached its midpoint. People are trying to figure out where to go with it, and I’m happy to get funding from NSF to look at some ideas about where to go next.”
— Duncan Tate, Professor of Physics and Astronomy
In his research, Tate uses a relatively new technique of using five lasers to cool atoms in a vacuum chamber. Next, he uses a powerful infrared laser and a dye laser to remove electrons from the cold atoms–a process called photoionization–to create the ultracoldneutral plasma.
This grant marks the fourth NF grant Tate has received in the past 18 years. His strong record of including students in his research earns him marks with the foundation. Students working in Tate’s lab are able to connect theoretical topics learned in the classroom with hands-on experimental physics. In the past several years, student projects contributed to a number of advances in Tate’s lab, though they have not yet led to publications. Students have helped build multiple aparatuses to aid in the process of Tate’s research, including ones that measure atom densities and drive atom transitions.
Colby is a RUI (Research in Undergraduate Institutions) institution, and the impact of Duncan Tate’s research program with regard to the Colby physics curriculum and research training includes integration of research and teaching, embracement of underrepresented groups, and broader impact and dissemination of information.