The development of plasma science has been motivated by a diverse set of applications such as astrophysics, space science, plasma processing, national defense, and fusion energy. Advances in plasma science have led to significant applications, such as plasma processing of semiconductors and computer chips, material hardening for industrial and biological uses, waste management techniques, lighting and plasma displays, space propulsion, and non-contact infection-free surgical scalpels. Particle accelerators and free electron lasers also rely on plasma science concepts. Related areas of science addressed in these research programs include turbulence and complex systems, multiphase interactions and plasma material interactions, self-organization of complex systems, astrophysics, geodynamics, and fluids.
Understanding the plasma science and the materials science associated with magnetic fusion energy environments are essential to the development of practical fusion energy. Fusion has the potential to provide an energy source that is virtually inexhaustible and environmentally benign, producing no combustion products or greenhouse gases. While fusion is a nuclear process, the products of the fusion reaction (helium and neutrons) are not intrinsically radioactive. Short-lived radioactivity may result from interactions of the fusion products with the reactor walls, but with proper design a fusion power plant would be passively safe and would produce no long-lived radioactive waste. Fusion reactor design studies suggest that electricity from fusion could cost about the same as electricity from other sources.
Studies of the extreme states of matter in HEDLP are scientifically relevant to inertial fusion energy, a potential alternate path to a fusion energy source. This research is also related to the NNSA stockpile stewardship program and, hence, indirectly supports DOE’s national security mission.