Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Plasma Science and Fusion Center

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The Center, headed by Dr. Chikang Li at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is a unique partnership of groups at five universities with complementary expertise in experimental, theoretical, and computational plasma physics. This expertise is applied to the development of important diagnostic instrumentation and to studies of high-energy-density physics (HEDP) in several areas of inertial confinement fusion (ICF) and laboratory astrophysics. Since it was established in 2019, the Center program has resulted in a wide range of important research and student recruitment and training toward National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) objectives in HEDP by staff scientists, postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, and undergraduate students at MIT and its partner institutions. For an idea of the range of Center research carried out by these students and scientists, see the titles on the CoE Publications page. For an idea of the range of Center research carried out by these students and scientists, see the titles on the Research Publications page.

The Center’s scientific staff at MIT includes Dr. Li, Dr. Johan Frenje, Dr. Richard Petrasso (the founder of the Center), Dr. Maria Gatu Johnson, and Dr. Fredrick Seguin. The partners and their lead scientists are the University of Nevada, Reno (UN/R) with Professor Roberto Mancini; Virginia Tech (VTech) with Professor Bhuvana Srinivasan; the University of Michigan (UMich) with Professor Scott Baalrud (previously at University of Iowa); and the University of Rochester (URoch) with Professor Riccardo Betti and Dr. Jonathon Peebles.

Current Center PhD students include Enac Gallardo Diaz at UN/R; Liam Welch at VTech; Patrick Adrian, Graeme Sutcliffe, Timothy Johnson, Justin Kunimune, Jacob Pearcy, Ben Reichelt, Tucker Evans, Skylar Dannhoff, and Cody Chang at MIT.

In 2019, MIT postdoc Hong Sio moved to LLNL. MIT postdoc Arijit Bose moved to a faculty position at the University of Delaware, and Center postdoc (at URoch) Jonathan Peebles was promoted to Scientist at URoch. Brandon Lahmann and Neel Kabadi both completed their MIT PhD degrees recently, and stayed at MIT for a short time as postdocs. Brandon then left MIT for a position at LLNLL, and Neel has accepted a new position at URoch. One of the former PhD students at UN/R, Dylan Cliche, is now a Postdoc at LLNL, and David Bernstein, who received his PhD under Scott Baalrud, is now a Postdoc at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

There have been seven undergraduates in the Center, including Cornell student Hodaya Prop (working at MIT in the summer); MIT students Ryan Przybocki, Raymond Li, Bryan Sperry, Shaherul Haque, and Hugo Ramirez; and VTech student Liam Welch. Ryan recently graduated from MIT and moved to Stanford to study for a PhD in Physics. Liam graduated from Vtech last spring and stayed in the Center as a PhD student.

Most MIT students receive special laboratory training at the MIT HEDP accelerator facility. It was designed and built by students, run by students, and used by students to test and calibrate the many diagnostics they design and then operate at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at LLNL, Omega and Omega EP at the URoch Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE), and the Z machine at Sandia National Laboratories. Diagnostics currently under development by students or with student participation include cryoPXTD (for measuring the time histories of fusion products including charged particles and X-rays from cryogenic ICF implosions, as well as electron temperature evolution); the Knock-on-Deuteron Imager (KoDI) for observing the three-dimensional structure of ICF target shells with deuterium-tritium (DT) fuel; penumbral imaging of X-ray emission from ICF capsules; MRSt, which will measure the DT-neutron spectrum as a function of time during ICF implosions at the NIF; a neutron spectrometer for the Z machine, and a special three-particle backlighter for radiography of laser-driven ICF and laboratory astrophysics experiments with monoenergetic 3-MeV protons, 9.5-MeV deuterons, and 14.7-MeV protons (which a student is using to study electromagnetic fields in direct and indirect ICF and in laboratory astrophysics experiments, and to measure charged-particle stopping powers). The students use the diagnostics to collect data they analyze for their own experiments and for supporting experiments performed by MIT collaborators. The students typically support approximately 100 NIF shots and 40 Omega shot days per year as well as attending weekly review meetings with NIF, Omega, and Z staff.

In addition to diagnostic development and experiments, the students do theoretical studies (e.g., particle transport in plasmas with and without magnetic fields). They run their own simulations of experiments with many existing codes (e.g., Hyades, LINAC, Flash, ARES, xRAGE, OSIRIS and iFP) and, in one case, develop their own simulation code for multi-ion-species shocks using the discontinuous Galerkin method.

Other important student and postdoctoral experiments have included studies of the effects of externally imposed magnetic fields on shock-driven ICF implosions; imaging and modeling of symmetry and dynamics for cryogenic ICF ICF implosions at OMEGA; measurement of temperature disequilibrium of D and T ions in shock-driven implosions on Omega and the NIF; studies of ion-electron equilibration in plasmas; axial proton radiography of electric and magnetic fields inside laser-driven hohlraums as well as foils on Omega; studies of magnetic reconnection and collisionless shocks and particle acceleration; measurement of fusion neutron spectra and yields at Z; and Omega X-ray spectroscopy of L-shell krypton emission for time-resolved measurements of electron density profiles.

Numerous awards have been won by Center scientists and students. Since the Center was formed, MIT scientist Maria Gatu Johnson received the American Physical Society’s 2019 Katherine E. Weimer Award for outstanding plasma science research by a woman physicist in the early stages of her career; UM Prof. Scott. Baalrud was selected for the APS Thomas H. Stix Award for “Outstanding Early Career Contributions to Plasma Physics Research”; URoch Prof. Riccardo Betti was selected for the Landau-Spitzer award for “major advancements of the shock-ignition concept through collaborative experimental and simulation efforts in inertial confinement fusion research”. U. Iowa PhD student David Bernstein received an award for the best poster presentation at the 2020 SSAP Symposium. During the last three years, the Center scientists and students have published (or submitted) 30 papers in peer-review journals and delivered 15 invited talks at National/International conferences, such as APS DPP annual meetings. Former MIT Center postdoc Hong Sio received two awards for Center papers he wrote while at the Center: an LLNL Director’s Excellence award for a Physical Review Letters paper and an Editor’s Pick selection for a Physics of Plasmas paper. MIT’s Maria Gatu Johnson also received a Physics of Plasmas Editor’s Pick selection for an outstanding paper. MIT scientist Chikang Li published a Physical Review Letters paper on collisionless shocks that has been featured by more than a dozen international science news agencies because of its importance to the field of laboratory astrophysics.