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    • 2019-07-29 14:05:15
    • Article ID: 716552

    A shock to behold: Earthbound scientists complement space missions by reproducing the dynamics behind astronomical shocks

    • Credit: NASA

      NASA-recorded solar flare.

    • Credit: Elle Starkman/PPPL Office of Communicatios

      Physicist Derek Schaeffer

    High-energy shock waves driven by solar flares and coronal mass ejections of plasma from the sun erupt throughout the solar system, unleashing magnetic space storms that can damage satellites, disrupt cell phone service and blackout power grids on Earth. Also driving high-energy waves is the solar wind — plasma that constantly flows from the sun and buffets the Earth’s protective magnetic field.

    Now experiments led by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) in the Princeton Center for Heliophysics 

    have for the first time reproduced the process behind the source of such shocks. The findings bridge the gap between laboratory and spacecraft observations and advance understanding of how the universe works.

    Sudden jumps

    The experiments, reported in Physical Review Letters, show how the interaction of plasma — the state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei, or ions — can cause sudden jumps in plasma pressure and magnetic field strength that can accelerate particles to near the speed of light. Such shocks are “collisionless” because they are formed by the interaction of waves and plasma particles rather than by collisions between the particles themselves.

    The research produced measurement of the full run-up to shocks. “Direct measurement is an elegant way to see how the particles are moving and interacting,” said physicist Derek Schaeffer of PPPL and Princeton University, who led the research. “Our paper shows that we can employ a powerful diagnostic to study the particle motions that lead to shocks.”

    The research, conducted on the Omega laser facility at the University of Rochester, produced a laser-driven plasma — called a “piston” plasma — that expanded at the supersonic rate of more than one million miles per hour through a pre-existing ambient plasma. The expansion accelerated ions in the ambient plasma to speeds of roughly half-a-million miles per hour, simulating the forerunner to collisionless shocks that occur throughout the cosmos.

    The research unfolded in several stages:

    • First, creation of the piston plasma reproduced the supersonic plasmas that form in outer space. The piston acted like a snowplow, sweeping up ions in the ambient plasma embedded in a magnetic field.

    • As more of these ions became swept up, they formed a barrier that kept the piston from acting further. “Once you’ve piled up enough ‘snow’, the shock decouples from the piston,” Schaeffer said.

    • The halted piston handed off formation of the shock to the highly compressed magnetized plasma, which gave rise to the sudden collisionless jump.

    Researchers used a diagnostic called Thompson scattering to track these developments. The diagnostic detects laser light scattered off the electrons in plasma, enabling measurement of the temperature and density of the electrons and the speed of the flowing ions. The results, the authors write, show that laboratory experiments can probe the behavior of plasma particles in the precursor to collisionless astrophysical shocks, “and can complement, and in some cases overcome the limitations of similar measurements undertaken by spacecraft missions.”

    Ultimate goal

    While this research reproduced the process that sets off shocks, the ultimate goal is to measure the shock-accelerated particles themselves. For that step, said Schaeffer, “the same diagnostic can be used once we develop the capability to drive strong enough shocks. As a bonus,” he adds, “this diagnostic is similar to how spacecraft measure particle motions in space shocks, so future results can be directly compared.”

    Collaborating on this research were scientists from PPPL, the University of Rochester, the University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of New Hampshire. Support for this work comes from the DOE Office of Science with simulations conducted on the Titan supercomputer at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, a DOE Office of Science user facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

    PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit energy.gov/science.

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    Scientists Explore Egyptian Mummy Bones With X-Rays and Infrared Light to Gain New Insight on Ancient Life

    Scientists Explore Egyptian Mummy Bones With X-Rays and Infrared Light to Gain New Insight on Ancient Life

    Experiments at Berkeley Lab are casting a new light on Egyptian soil and ancient mummified bone samples that could provide a richer understanding of daily life and environmental conditions thousands of years ago. In a two-monthslong research effort that concluded in late August, two researchers from Cairo University in Egypt brought 32 bone samples and two soil samples to study using X-ray and infrared light-based techniques at the Lab's Advanced Light Source.

    Deep Learning Expands Study of Nuclear Waste Remediation

    Deep Learning Expands Study of Nuclear Waste Remediation

    A research collaboration between Berkeley Lab, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Brown University, and NVIDIA has achieved exaflop performance with a deep learning application used to model subsurface flow in the study of nuclear waste remediation

    Biofuel producers make significant gains in efficiency, productivity and conservation, Argonne survey shows

    Biofuel producers make significant gains in efficiency, productivity and conservation, Argonne survey shows

    The nation's biofuel producers have made significant gains in both energy efficiency and water conservation in recent years, according to a comprehensive survey conducted by Argonne National Laboratory.

    Machine Learning Enhances Light-Beam Performance at the Advanced Light Source

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    A team of researchers at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley has successfully demonstrated how machine-learning tools can improve the stability of light beams' size for science experiments at a synchrotron light source via adjustments that largely cancel out unwanted fluctuations.

    Machine learning analyses help unlock secrets of stable 'supercrystal'

    Machine learning analyses help unlock secrets of stable 'supercrystal'

    By blasting a frustrated mixture of materials with quick pulses of laser light, researchers transformed a superlattice into a supercrystal, a rare, repeating, three-dimensional structural much larger than an ordinary crystal. Using machine learning techniques, they studied the underlying structure of this sample at the nanoscale level before and after applying the laser pulse treatment.

    Argonne collaborates to review current battery recycling processes for electric vehicles

    Argonne collaborates to review current battery recycling processes for electric vehicles

    Nature has published a new review co-authored by Argonne analyst Linda Gaines. The review evaluates the state of EV battery recycling today and what's needed to build a more sustainable future.

    Go With the Flow: Scientists Design New Grid Batteries for Renewable Energy

    Go With the Flow: Scientists Design New Grid Batteries for Renewable Energy

    Scientists at Berkeley Lab have designed an affordable 'flow battery' membrane that could accelerate renewable energy for the electrical grid.

    Tests start at CERN for large-scale prototype of new technology to detect neutrinos

    Tests start at CERN for large-scale prototype of new technology to detect neutrinos

    Scientists working at CERN have started tests of a new neutrino detector prototype, using a very promising technology called "dual phase." If successful, this new technology will be used at a much larger scale for the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, hosted by the U.S Department of Energy's Fermilab.

    New Measurement Yields Smaller Proton Radius

    New Measurement Yields Smaller Proton Radius

    Physicists get closer to solving the proton radius puzzle with unique new measurement of the charge radius of the proton.

    A Game-Changing Test for Prion, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's Diseases is on the Horizon

    A Game-Changing Test for Prion, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's Diseases is on the Horizon

    A new test agent can easily and efficiently detect the misfolded protein aggregates that cause devastating neurological diseases in blood samples. The technology could lead to early diagnosis of prion, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's diseases for the first time.


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    Brookhaven-Commonwealth Fusion Energy Project Wins DOE Funding

    Brookhaven-Commonwealth Fusion Energy Project Wins DOE Funding

    Brookhaven's Superconducting Magnet Division will partner with industry to develop and characterize superconducting power cables.

    U.S. Department of Energy to Hold Fifth CyberForce Competition(tm)

    U.S. Department of Energy to Hold Fifth CyberForce Competition(tm)

    Going on its fourth year, DOE's CyberForce Competition(tm) on Nov. 15-16 will give teams of cybersecurity students and professionals the opportunity to compete and refine their skills in real-time at 10 national laboratories across the U.S.

    Daniel Gruen awarded 2019 Panofsky Fellowship at SLAC

    Daniel Gruen awarded 2019 Panofsky Fellowship at SLAC

    Daniel Gruen's work on how massive objects bend light from distant galaxies is aimed at unraveling some of the greatest mysteries of modern physics: What is dark matter? What is dark energy, and how is it accelerating the expansion of the universe?

    DOE Announces FY 2020 Small Business Innovation Research Funding Opportunity

    The Department of Energy (DOE) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs issued its FY 2020 Phase II Release 1 Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) with approximately $97 million in available funding.

    Research effort by Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago results in R&D 100 Award

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    A joint effort by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago has led to a prestigious R&D 100 Award and is expected to bring an innovation closer to market so it ultimately can be used in many industrial applications.

    Department of Energy Awards Fermilab Funding for Next-Generation Dark Matter Research

    Department of Energy Awards Fermilab Funding for Next-Generation Dark Matter Research

    The U.S. Department of Energy announced that it has awarded scientists at its Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory funding to boost research on dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up an astounding 85% of the matter in the universe.

    Fermilab Scientist Xingchen Xu Receives Prestigious DOE Award to Develop Superconductors

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    Fermilab scientist Xingchen Xu has received the prestigious $2.5 million Department of Energy Early Career Research Award to fund his five-year mission: advancing two technologies that will improve the performance niobium-tin superconductor by 50% or more, allowing for smaller coils, stronger magnetic fields and lower costs.

    ORNL to take on nine power grid modernization projects as part of DOE award

    ORNL to take on nine power grid modernization projects as part of DOE award

    Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers will lead two new projects and support seven more to enhance the reliability and resilience of the nation's power grid as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's 2019 Grid Modernization Lab Call.

    Berkeley Lab Innovations Recognized With 3 R&D 100 Awards

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    Cutting-edge technologies from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to detect radiation, make buildings more energy efficient, and accelerate neuroscience research were honored with R&D 100 Awards by R&D World magazine.

    Argonne and partners take home nine R&D 100 Awards in 2019

    Argonne and partners take home nine R&D 100 Awards in 2019

    Research teams at Argonne National Laboratory have won nine R&D 100 awards, three more are named finalists.


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    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Scientists designed and connected two different artificial cells to each other to produce molecules called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

    Engineering Living Scaffolds for Building Materials

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    Excavating Quantum Information Buried in Noise

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    How Electrons Move in a Catastrophe

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    When Ions and Molecules Cluster

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    How an ion behaves when isolated within an analytical instrument can differ from how it behaves in the environment. Now, Xue-Bin Wang at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory devised a way to bring ions and molecules together in clusters to better discover their properties and predict their behavior.

    Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures

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    Shape affects how the particles fit together and, in turn, the resulting material. For the first time, a team observed the self-assembly of nanoparticles with tetrahedral shapes.

    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

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    This study is the first to confirm dust particles pre-dating the formation of our solar system. Further study of these materials will enable a deeper understanding of the processes that formed and have since altered them.

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

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    Future fusion reactors will require materials that can withstand extreme operating conditions, including being bombarded by high-energy neutrons at high temperatures. Scientists recently irradiated titanium diboride (TiB2) in the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) to better understand the effects of fusion neutrons on performance.

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

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    In breast cancer screening, an imaging technique based on nuclear medicine is currently being used as a successful secondary screening tool alongside mammography to improve the accuracy of the diagnosis. Now, a team is hoping to improve this imaging technique.

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

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    Scientists can use genetic information to measure if microbes in the environment can perform specific ecological roles. Researchers recently analyzed the genomes of over 6,000 microbial species.


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