Microgravity Complex Plasmas

Physics Objectives:

  • For laboratory complex (dusty) plasmas, the gravitational force plays a significant role in determining the properties of the system.
  • If gravity can be removed, the charged microparticles can fill the entire plasma volume making it possible to study the more subtle, inter-particles forces that affect a complex plasma.
  • And, new phenomena - collective effects, phase transitions, self-organization - can be studied.


  • MPRL collaborates with the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE, Germany) and the Institute for High Energy Density (IHED, Russia) on two microgravity projects:  PK-4 (PlasmaKristall Experiment 4) and EkoPlasma.

  • In 2013, Prof. Konopka began developing a new laboratory at Auburn for testing the PLASMALAB vacuum chambers.

  • MPRL is also adapting the PIV technology for use with high speed imaging (>100 frames per second) in order to perform measurements on these microgravity platforms.

  • In 2017, Prof. Konopka (PI),  Prof. Thomas (co-PI), and Prof. Jeremiah Williams (co-PI, Wittenberg University) received funding from the NSF and NASA in support of their studies using PK-4.



Left:  Ground-based dusty plasma, particles are compressed due to gravity
Right:  Microgravity-based dusty plasma, particles fill the plasma volume

IMG 9809 3

Above: A view of PK-4 operations at the 2017 Facility Science Team meeting in Dec., 2017.

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