Tag: Matthew Stoneking

Lawrence University Physicist Discusses Electron Plasma Research in Science Hall Colloquium

Lawrence University physicist Matthew Stoneking discusses his current research with electron plasmas and their potential role in the future production of electric power Monday, April 25 in a Science Hall Colloquium.

Stoneking presents “Confining Electron Plasmas in a Toroidal Magnetic Field” at 4:15 p.m. in Science Hall, Room 102. The event is free and open to the public.

In his presentation, Stoneking will outline some basic plasma physics experiments in which electrons are trapped in a toroidal (doughnut-shaped) magnetic field. He will explain how charged particles, which flow along magnetic field lines like beads on a wire, can be exploited in experiments that might lead to a nuclear fusion type of power source.

Pure electron plasmas are collections or “clouds” of electrons that are confined in a vacuum chamber using magnetic and electric fields. Stoneking’s research focuses on the criteria needed for confining a stable electron plasma in a toroidal magnetic field and the factors that limit the duration of the confinement in such systems.

Since joining the Lawrence physics department in 1997, Stoneking has received three grants in support of his research, including a $178,000 grant from the National Science Foundation in 2003. He earned his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Wisconsin.

Lawrence University Physicist Awarded $178,000 National Science Foundation Grant

A curious visitor peering through the glass of Room 044 in the basement of Lawrence University’s Science Hall and seeing the large, elevated, aluminum “drum,” its wide sides wrapped with thick, black bundles of wire amid an array of other attached tubes and hoses, might conclude they had just stumbled upon an industrial-strength, high-tech washing machine. Or perhaps a remnant of eccentric “Doc” Brown’s “Back to the Future” workshop.

Far from being a fancy Maytag or a mad scientist movie prop, the contraption is the cornerstone of Lawrence University associate professor of physics Matthew Stoneking’s scientific research. The drum, a “toroidal vacuum chamber” to be exact, which Stoneking brought with him to Lawrence from his research associate days at the University of Wisconsin, is at the heart of his work on pure electron plasmas.

Now, thanks to a three-year, $178,000 grant Stoneking has received from the National Science Foundation, he soon will begin constructing a new and greatly improved apparatus, permitting more sophisticated experimentation. Stoneking’s NSF grant will enable him, in conjuction with Lawrence physics students, to build a less imposing, but much more precisely designed and constructed vacuum chamber out of stainless steel and copper in his new laboratory in the recently renovated Youngchild Hall.

Pure electron plasmas are collections or “clouds” of electrons confined in a vacuum chamber using magnetic and electric fields. Stoneking’s research focuses on the criteria needed for confining a stable electron plasma in a toroidal — donut-shaped — magnetic field and the factors that limit the duration of the confinement in such systems.

A toroidal magnetic field can be visualized as a bundle of lines wrapped into a circular loop, allowing charged particles, such as electrons, to stream or “flow” along those lines like beads on a wire.

Plasma physics is the scientific foundation for the potential future production of electric power by nuclear fusion.

“Although they do not occur in nature, electron plasmas have proved to be excellent systems for testing our understanding of the behavior of ‘complex’ fluids,” said Stoneking. “They can serve as a kind of ‘wind tunnel’ for testing mathematical theories of fluid dynamics.”

In previous experiments, Stoneking successfully confined electron plasmas in a toroidal magnetic field for as long as 2 one-hundredths of a second (or 20 milliseconds). Stoneking estimates the new chamber he will build will improve the purity of the vacuum by approximately 100 times and strengthen the magnetic field by a factor of five, resulting in confinement times approaching one second. Durations of that length would provide a more refined comparison of experimental results with existing theoretical predictions.

The NFS grant will also provide both summer research and travel stipends for Stoneking and his students to attend national physics conferences. In addition, it provides Stoneking with funds to establish a collaboration with physics colleagues at the University of California-San Diego.

This is the third grant Stoneking has received in support of his research since joining the Lawrence physics department in 1997.

“This grant will enable us to extend our understanding of electron plasmas and offer excellent research opportunities for our students,” said Stoneking, who earned his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Wisconsin.

Lawrence University Faculty Promoted, Granted Tenured Appointments

Lawrence University faculty members Michael Orr and Alan Parks have been promoted to the rank of full professor by the college’s Board of Trustees.

Four other faculty — Jerald Podair, Matthew Stoneking, Timothy Troy and Dirck Vorenkamp — have been promoted to the rank of associate professor and granted tenured appointments.

Orr, a specialist in medieval art and illuminated manuscripts, joined the Lawrence faculty as an art historian in 1989. A native of England, Orr has served as an exhibition consultant to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, Calif., and been awarded two research grants by the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1992, Orr was recognized with Lawrence’s Outstanding Young Teacher award. He earned his Ph.D. at Cornell University.

Parks has taught mathematics and computer science at Lawrence since 1985. A member of the American Mathematical Society, Parks’ research interests in applied mathematics include dynamical systems and differential equations. As a computer programmer, he has focused on the theory of computation, coding theory, and the analysis of algorithms and he written applications in C++, Fortran, Pascal and MATLAB. He was cited for his teaching in 1987 as the recipient of Lawrence’s Outstanding Young Teacher award. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Podair, a 20th-century American historian specializing in race relations, joined the Lawrence faculty in 1998. His Ph.D. dissertation was recognized in 1998 by the Society of American Historians with the Allan Nevin Prize, which honored his work as the single most outstanding dissertation in American history that year. It was published as the book “The Strike That Changed New York” last fall by Yale University Press. Podair, who earned his doctorate at Princeton University, served as a consultant scholar for the recent Joe McCarthy exhibition at the Outagamie County Museum.

Stoneking, a physicist whose research interest focus on plasma physics and magnetic confinements of non-neutral plasmas, joined the Lawrence faculty in 1997. He’s been the recipient of a $225,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and a $37,000 grant from Research Corporation to support construction of his plasma physics laboratory, including a toroidal vacuum chamber. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Troy, a 1985 Lawrence graduate, returned to his alma mater’s theatre and drama department first from 1989-92 and again in 1997. He directs Lawrence opera, play and musical productions, as well as the “Plays on History” series staged at the Outagamie County Museum. In addition, he serves as community artist-in-residence for the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and wrote the libretto for Samuel Barber’s “Excursions” Opus 20, which premiered in January. He earned a master of fine arts degree at the University of Iowa.

Vorenkamp, a member of the Lawrence religious studies department since 1997, specializes in Asian religions, especially Buddhism. His teaching was recognized with the Lawrence Freshman Studies Teaching Award in 2000 and his scholarly research has been published in the Encyclopedia of Monasticism, the Journal of Asian Studies and the Journal of Chinese Philosophy, among others. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.