Magnetic fields within hot, highly charged matter, as hot as a star – like our sun, are being studied this month at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Nevada Terawatt Facility. The huge laboratory complex is home to the nation’s largest university laser and pulsed-power accelerator combination. In addition to being used to teach cutting-edge physics research to College of Science students, the facility is a resource for industry diagnostic testing and development and is helping to promote workforce development.
“We study changes in the state of matter as well as the evolution of the plasma as it reaches extreme pressure and temperature, and we’re perfecting novel techniques to measure and control the plasma,” said Aaron Covington, director of the Nevada Terawatt Facility.
The experiments underway this month are led by Radu Presura, a Physics Department research professor who is funded by the Department of Energy to develop more accurate ways to measure the strength of complicated magnetic structures in plasma. Scientists desire to understand magnetic fields within the plasma in a variety of environments. At the Nevada Terawatt Facility, scientists can do what no other university can do, which is to use the laser to produce a plasma plume in the presence of an extreme magnetic field made by the Z-pinch accelerator, allowing plasmas to be studied across a broad range of parameters.
The facility, located near the airport in Stead, north of the University’s main campus, is known for having world-class plasma physics theory and experiments. Ongoing efforts include studies of laboratory astrophysics and high-energy plasma experiments that use the Terawatt Facility’s unique Z-pinch/laser combination. Besides exploring the inner workings of stars and fusion energy, industry collaborations are providing the opportunity to explore more practical innovations that may help to improve methods of medical diagnostics, precision optical development, cancer treatments and more.
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