Plasma Physics

The matter surrounding us usually occurs in the three different states: solid, liquid, gaseous. Under extreme conditions of temperature, pressure and density, matter can assume a fourth state: the plasma. This state is reached when we apply such high energies that individual electrons are torn from the electron shell of the atoms that make up matter. A system of free, negatively charged electrons and positive ions is thus created. This electron-ion plasma can exist across a large range of temperatures and densities, and can change into various phases.

Hydrogen and its various forms

To create hot and dense plasmas in the laboratory, scientists at GSI bombard solid materials with high-intensity, pulsed heavy-ion or laser beams. For the first time worldwide, the combination of these two beams is being synergistically used for the analysis of the plasmas created. At the FAIR-facility, it will be possible to advance into ranges of plasma temperature and density that approximate the conditions in giant planets, such as Jupiter. Moreover, these studies open up the fascinating possibility of investigating the basic physics aspects of inertial confinement fusion - for many scientists a process that may represent the future energy supply for humanity.


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The phase diagram of hydrogen (picture: TU Darmstadt)

The adjacent diagram illustrates this for hydrogen, which, depending on pressure and temperature, occurs in the universe in very different states and with various properties: as a cold gas in large hydrogen clouds; a thin, hot plasma in the solar corona; a molecular fluid on the surface of and a metallic liquid inside giant planets; or a high-density fusion plasma in stellar interiors.


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