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Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications
energy source, high-power radiation sources, intense particle beams, and many aspects of space science.
Plasma science is a fundamental scientific discipline, similar, for example, to condensed-matter physics. This fact is apparent when one considers the commonality of the intellectual problems in plasma science that span the wide range of applications to science and technology. Despite its fundamental character, plasma science is frequently viewed in the academic community as an interdisciplinary enterprise focused on a large collection of applications. Experiment, theory, and computation are all critical components of modern plasma science.
While the applications of plasma science have been supported by the federal government, no agency has assumed responsibility for basic research in plasma science. In general, there is a lack of coordination of plasma science research among the federal agencies.
As the development of plasma applications has progressed, small-scale research efforts have declined, particularly in the area of basic plasma experiments. This decline has led to a significant backlog of important scientific opportunities. This core activity in fundamental plasma science, carried out by small groups and funded by principal-investigator grants, is dangerously small, considering its importance to the national effort in fusion energy and other applied programs.
Plasma scientists in academic institutions are less likely to be in tenure-track positions than are other physicists, and courses in plasma science are currently unavailable at many educational institutions.
Plasma science can have a significant impact on many disciplines and technologies, including those directly linked to industrial growth. To properly pursue the potential offered by plasma science, the United States must create and maintain a coherent and coordinated program of research and technological development in plasma science.
Recognition as a distinct discipline in educational and research institutions will be crucial to the healthy development of plasma science.
There is no effective structure in place to develop the basic science that underlies the many applications of plasmas, and if the present trend continues, plasma science education and basic plasma science research are likely to decrease both in quality and quantity. If nothing is done by the federal government, it is likely that research in basic plasma science will cease to exist, and progress in the applications that depend on it will eventually halt.
The future health of plasma science, and hence its ability to contribute to the nation's technological development, hinges on the revitalization of basic plasma science and, in particular, on the revitalization of small-scale basic plas-