This award funds the Physics Frontiers Center for Self-Organization in Laboratory and Astrophysical Plasmas. At the heart of the center's program is the engendering of new collaborations between plasma physicists and astrophysicists to examine six phenomena within the unifying theme of magnetic self-organization. The six research topics are dynamo activity, magnetic reconnection, magnetic helicity conservation and transport, angular momentum transport, ion heating, and magnetic chaos and transport. Each phenomenon occurs in the laboratory and in many astrophysical venues. The occurrence of each is not in doubt, but the physics mechanisms are poorly understood or unknown. All six phenomena can occur as part of one process. None can be understood in isolation of the others. Thus, there is tremendous gain from collective study of these six topics, united by the theme of magnetic self-organization.
The research will be carried out by a core Center group of 24 physicists covering all the needed areas of expertise - laboratory plasma physics and astrophysics, and experiment, computation, and theory. New links between astrophysicists and plasma physicists, essential to solve the problems, will be established. Recent advances in plasma physics, particularly experimental measurement techniques and computation, and the wealth of new astronomical data, imply that the present time is right for the Center. Three core institutions, each with a group involvement, provide complementary expertise and functions. The University of Chicago provides astrophysical and computational expertise, whereas Princeton University and The University of Wisconsin mainly provide complementary experiments. Overall management responsibility will reside at the University of Wisconsin. The key activities, applied to each topic, are to compare lab and astrophysical observations, compare results from different experiments, perform joint experiments, apply theoretical and computational tools developed in one venue to other situations, and convene topical workshops.
The Center will also initiate a new, professionally-evaluated, educational outreach effort, building on a very successful lecture-demonstration series (the "Wonders of Physics") at the University of Wisconsin. The Center expects to provide a pool of young scientists with interdisciplinary training and enhance the connection between plasma physics and the larger physics community.
This award is co-funded by the Physics Division and the Office of Multidisciplinary Activities in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate.