Theory at MPE
The profile and activities of a theory group that is integrated into a predominantly experimental institute are by necessity different from those of a 'pure' theory institute.
The theory group divides into smaller sub-units (consisting each of one or two staff plus several 'soft money' scientists, visitors, and students), that research specific topics, closely related to the four major experimental fields of the Institute (plasmaphysics, X-ray astronomy, gamma-ray astronomy, infrared astronomy). With its 8 scientific staff members it is, however, only able to cover a limited fraction of the total scientific spectrum -- this means that it is necessary to concentrate on some scientific cornerstone programmes.
Since 1994 the group has been engaged in the investigation of strongly coupled complex ('dusty') plasmas and Plasma Crystals (Latest News!). This state of matter constitutes a special form of colloidal plasmas, i.e. plasmas containing micron-sized particles ('dust grains'). The MPE Theory group was worldwide the first to investigate plasma crystals in the laboratory and under microgravity conditions, in parabolic flights and sounding rocket experiments, even on the International Space Station ISS, where PKE-Nefedov, a complex plasma experiment facility, was in operation from 2001 to 2005. Since January 2006, PK-3 Plus, the next-generation plasma crystal experiment, is onboard the space station. One major project for the future will be to establish more plasma facilities and experiment time onboard the ISS for further plasma crystal experiments.
A new research area of the Theory Group is the application of plasma technology in medicine. In a collaboration with the Schwabing Hospital, Munich, the treatment of wounds with plasma is studied.
Synergy and the interchange of know-how between these research areas are especially important, with regard to fundamental processes, computational techniques, and analysis procedures.