Michigan Institute of Plasma Science and EngineeringPlasma SciencePlasma EngineeringPlasma Science and Engineering


Plasma Science and Engineering is an interdisciplinary field that encompasses an impressive diversity of topics - from thrusters for spacecraft to imploding pellets for fusion, from fundamental science to industrial technologies. This intellectual diversity is so broad that scientists in one field of plasma physics may not be able to keep abreast of what is happening in another field of plasma physics. At the same time, it is perhaps even more important that the general public, from high school students to senior citizens, have an appreciation of the importance of plasmas to their daily life. (After all, the sun is a plasma (!) and every microchip is made with plasmas.) The MIPSE mission therefore has an important outreach component. One part of that mission is outreach within the discipline wherein scientists in the various fields of plasma science learn from each other about the opportunities, similarities and differences of the sub-fields of plasma science. The other part of the mission is outreach to the general public, high school students and even Federal agencies, to help inform them about the importance of plasmas in our society. Some of the outreach activities of MIPSE members are summarized here.

Transit of Venus
Transit of Venus Transit of Venus

A hundred visitors came to the University of Michigan in June 2012 to observe the plasma physics of the transit of Venus using a hydrogen-alpha filtered solar telescope. The recently purchased telescope, co-sponsored by MIPSE, was also used by the Michigan Math and Science Scholars (MMSS) camp. The students in the physics session, supervised by Prof. Fred Becchetti, were able to observe several solar surface flares and sun spots. These space phenomena are researched by MIPSE members in the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Science Department at UM. Perhaps some of the observers are our future plasma scientists and engineers!

An Introduction to Solar Plasma Physics
Solar telescope 2011 Michigan Math and Science Scholars 2011

One of the most fascinating of plasma physics laboratories is as accessible as the sun in the sky - it is the sun! The College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) at the University of Michigan annually hosts the Michigan Math and Science Scholars (MMSS) program to introduce high school students to opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. A highlight of this year's Physics session of MMSS, held July 2011, was observing the sun using a special solar telescope equipped with filters for emission lines from excited hydrogen. The telescope was funded in part by MIPSE. A group of eighteen students from the U.S., South Korea, Greece and elsewhere participated under the direction of Prof. Fred Becchetti of the UM Physics Department and two graduate student assistants. The collection and concentration of solar energy was first demonstrated in a dramatic fashion using a large Fresnel lens. The students then observed the surface and limb of the sun using the solar telescope, and several sunspots and flares could be seen. As part of the Physics MMSS program, nuclear fusion reactions were discussed, including the potential for solar energy and eventually fusion reactors as energy sources to replace fossil fuels.

Solar Eclipse
Sun eclipse 2009 Sun eclipse 2009

Kids and adults are watching through solar filter glasses the Sun slowly being eclipsed by the moon, just prior to the total solar eclipse.

The solar eclipse at totality as seen through the clouds at Deshui Lake near Shanghai China in July 2009. (Photos: Mark Moldwin)

MIPSE Faculty
MIPSE Students
  • Graduate student Ben Yee worked as a Teaching Fellow with the outreach office. The appointment involved eight months of teaching math from an engineering perspective to two 9th grade algebra classes at Ypsilanti High School. Ben maintained a blog about his experience.

  • Graduate student Aimee Hubble runs a blog for the Plasma Science and Technology Laboratory in the Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences department.