PerspectiveAtomic Physics

Really cool neutral plasmas

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Science  04 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6422, pp. 33-34
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau7988

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Plasmas are supposed to be hot. Hydrogen nuclei undergo fusion in the Sun because plasma temperatures and pressures are so high. On page 61 of this issue, Langin et al. (1) report on a completely different kind of plasma by photoionizing a laser-cooled gas of strontium atoms. The ion temperature is a chilly 0.05 K, so thermal speed of the ions is equivalent to a person taking a brisk walk. Surprisingly, the properties of this low-density, low-temperature plasma provide clues about the workings of high–energy-density physics relevant for fusion power research.