Prof. Dr. Lorin Swint Matthews (Baylor University), "Cosmic Dust Bunnies and Laboratory Dust Crystals: An introduction to dusty plasma research"
Lorin Swint Matthews
Baylor University, Waco, Texas USA
Dust is everywhere. 99.99% of the matter in the universe is in the plasma state – it’s everywhere, too. What happens when dust and plasma get together?
My research is focused on dusty plasmas: tiny pieces of ice and rock a hundred times smaller than the width of a human hair, and their interaction with plasma, the glowing ionized gas that makes up 99% of our universe. The phenomena I study range from how the dust in cosmic gas clouds starts to clump together to form new planets (the formation of cosmic dust bunnies) to how these small particles can assemble themselves into incredibly ordered structures like crystals and helical strings reminiscent of the twisted helix of DNA.
While charged dust is the primary component of many beautiful astrophysical phenomena such as comet tails, planetary rings, protoplanetary disks, and noctilucent clouds, it is a problem for missions to other bodies in our solar system. The Apollo astronauts found that lunar dust can alter the thermal properties of equipment, obscure visors and instrument readouts, degrade seals, and abrade materials. The Mars Rovers stopped working when their solar panels became covered with dust.
Understanding the charging and dynamics of dust is vital to understanding our universe as well as exploring our solar system. Numerical modeling of the coupled charging and transport processes allows exploration of environments which can’t be easily reached. These models must be validated by comparing with experimental measurements. This talk will provide a brief overview of current capabilities of numerical models and their validation against both ground and space-based experiments.