Plasma Physics and Sensors Laboratory host Pizza and Plasma Event

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The Air Force Research Laboratory's, Sensors Directorate,  Plasma Physics and Sensors Lab (PPSL) here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, recently held a poster session and tour with a theme of 'Pizza and Plasma.'

While the word "plasma" may conjure up the yellow-colored liquid component of blood in some people's minds, contrary to the blood kind, ionospheric plasma is an ionized state of matter similar to gas and the PPSL team is developing new diagnostic techniques to further understand different plasma environments in order to improve sensor, communication, and navigation signals.

"Current and future Air Force missions can be strongly impacted by plasma turbulence, because it can be the cause of clutter for propagating electromagnetic signals and can effect over the horizon GPS and satellite communication," said Dr. Vladimir Sotnikov, senior research physicist, with the Plasma Physics and Sensors Lab.

Sotnikov added that plasma physics has been a recognizable field of study since approximately 1929 when Irving Langmuir, an American chemist and physicist discovered oscillations in ionized gases and gave the name "plasma" to the nearly neutral part of an ionized gas.

Among Sotnikov's team that spoke at the  event were junior physicists James Caplinger, Andrew Hamilton, and Nathan Zechar.

Caplinger elaborated on how PPSL seeks to further understand how electromagnetic waves,  travel through plasma environments, such as the upper atmosphere, space or near a high Mach aircraft. 

"Plasmas, which can be referred to as the fourth state of matter, are rare on earth," Caplinger said.  "Yet they comprise the most common state of matter in the universe, as stars are in a plasma state."

"The interaction of electromagnetic signals produced by antennas and sensors with plasma particles can strongly degrade the quality of the signals creating difficulties in communication," said Sotnikov.

According to Caplinger, the plasma research will help improve aircraft systems.

"By understanding how the interaction occurs for different plasma environments, we may be able to mitigate instances where this interaction negatively effects aircraft systems which rely on electromagnetic waves  and in other circumstances it may be possible to exploit this interaction to improve upon the normal operation of these systems," said Caplinger.

The team's work will be presented at the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics conference to  discuss topics ranging from  simulations of electron density perturbations in a gas discharge; Thompson scattering and spectroscopy diagnostics for a low turbulences produced in a dual wire explosion; mid-latitude plasma density irregularities and electromagnetic wave scattering; design of an experimental facility for the study of very low frequency wave generation and propagation in magnetized plasmas.