James-Maxwell-Prize for Gregor Morfill

July 19, 2011

This year's James Clerk Maxwell Prize in Plasma Physics goes to Professor Gregor Morfill, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. With the award, the American Physical Society (APS) recognizes Morfill's pioneering and seminal contributions to the field of dusty plasmas. The bestowal of the award will take place at the annual meeting of the Division of Plasma Physics to be held in Salt Lake City in November 2011.

The prize was established in 1975 in honour of the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell and is presented annually for outstanding contributions to plasma physics. Gregor Morfill is the first German laureate. The official citation highlights in particular his work leading to the discovery of plasma crystals, to an explanation for the complicated structure of Saturn's rings and to microgravity dusty plasma experiments conducted first on parabolic-trajectory flights and then on the International Space Station.

Already in his PhD thesis, space plasma physics grabbed Gregor Morfills attention and continued to be his main research interest. After he became Director at the MPE, he not only worked on theoretical astrophysics but also built up an experimental group to study dusty plasmas. Such plasmas can be found in space e.g. in interstellar molecular clouds, in protoplanetary discs, comet tails or the rings around the large planets Saturn and Jupiter. Under certain conditions so called ”plasma crystals¿ can form in dustry plasmas, where the electrically charged dust particles arrange themselves in a regular, macroscopic crystal lattice. In ground-based experiments mainly two-dimensional crystals can be observed due to gravity. Therefore the research group started a series of experiments on parabolic flights in 1996 and on the International Space Station in 2001.

For his work on various aspects on plasma physics – lately also the use of atmospheric plasmas in medicine – Morfill has received numerous national and international awards and honours, such as the ”Wissenschaftspreis des Stifterverbandes der Deutschen Wissenschaft" (1998), the Gagarin Medal (1999) and the Ziolkowski Medal (2007).

last update 2011-09-02 by H. Steinle

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