The Michigan Electron Long Beam Accelerator

A number of the department’s experimental research programs concern basic topics of relevance to advanced accelerators, z-pinches, magnetic confinement fusion and inertial confinement fusion.

For example, NERS faculty and students are researching the fundamental problem of controlled thermonuclear fusion, the process which generates energy in the sun and stars. If fusion energy is achieved, water could be used as fuel, providing an almost unlimited supply of energy. The problem is to confine certain nuclei at very high temperatures and pressures until they fuse, releasing energy. The incredible potential payoff has inspired enormous international research programs to understand the physics of hot ionized gases known as plasmas. This research has led to new applications of plasmas in accelerators, materials and light sources. Read on for sample projects.

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Purifying Water with Plasma



Michigan Engineering professor John Foster is working on a method to purify water with the fourth state of matter - plasma.

Michigan Engineering professor John Foster is working on a method to purify water with the fourth state of matter - plasma.


High Power Microwave Sources Driven by Long-Pulse, Intense, Relativistic, Electron Beams

Experiments are being conducted to generate high power (MW to GW) microwaves from intense, relativistic electron beams. Currently under investigation is the relativistic magnetron. This work is led by Ronald Gilgenbach.

Plasma Propulsion

Plasmas and electric propulsion provide the only means for spacecraft to reach the outer planets. U-M research utilizes microwave plasmas to generate ions and electrons needed for such advanced plasma rockets. Other concepts such as the magnetically-insulated inertial confinement fusion and the Gas Dynamic Magnetic Mirror Machine are investigated for space propulsion and deep space missions. This work is led by John Foster.

Laser Wakefield Electron Accelerators

Laser accelerators can accelerate electrons to an energy of one billion electron volts in a distance of less than one centimeter, which is ten-thousand-times shorter than can be obtained by conventional means. Terawatt lasers with pulse lengths measured in femtoseconds are utilized to accelerate electrons or ions in plasma. This work is led by Alexander Thomas.

Z-pinch X-ray Sources

Intense x-ray pulses from wire-array z-pinches have successfully generated nuclear fusion neutrons at Sandia National Labs. NERS faculty and students work with Sandia scientists on a wire array z-pinch at U-M that is being upgraded to operate at a plasma current of 1 million Amperes. This work is led by Ronald Gilgenbach.

Plasma-Assisted Materials Processing

Experiments are being conducted to investigate the physical and chemical processes involved in the manufacturing of integrated circuits using a radio frequency (RF) Parallel Plate GEC Reference Reactor. This work is led by John Foster.

Theoretical Plasma Physics

In addition to the theoretical aspects on all of the above, the following areas are actively pursued: electrical breakdown and discharge, heating phenomenology, quantum vacuum nanoelectronics, high brightness electron sources and pulsed-power systems. Yue Ying Lau specializes in plasma theory while Mark Kushner develops computational methods.

Plasmas and Fusion Faculty: Ronald M. Gilgenbach, Y.Y. Lau, John E. Foster, Karl Krushelnick, Alexander Thomas, Mark J. Kushner

Adjunct and Research Faculty: Jack Davis