The Max Planck Princeton Research Centre for Plasma Physics – a cooperation between Max Planck Society and Princeton University – starts operating in autumn this year.

Asdex Upgrade Plasma (Image: IPP)

Fusion plasma on ASDEX Upgrade (Image: IPP)

“When it comes to plasmas, fusion researchers and astrophysicists can benefit greatly from each other,” says Sibylle Günter, Director of IPP and initiator of the new Max Planck Princeton Centre. “In fusion, we manipulate and measure plasmas, while astrophysicists observe them”. Fusion has, for instance, developed plasma models and computer codes, which complement the fluid or particle based models used in astrophysics. The centre will enable researchers to make best use of such synergies by providing the framework to establish close cooperations, continues Günter: “In its beginning, fusion research had close ties to astrophysics, but this has to be reinforced these days.”

Partners of the Max Planck Princeton Centre are the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), one of the leading U.S. institutes in this field. IPP and PPPL already collaborate on IPP’s stellarator Wendelstein 7-X, which is under construction. On the part of astrophysics, the new centre includes the Max Planck Institutes for Solar System Research and for Astrophysics, as well as Princeton University’s Department for Astrophysical Sciences. The centre is funded by the Max Planck Society, Princeton University, National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. On the German side, funding is guaranteed for five years, which can be extended for another five years after successful evaluation.

Four research topics

Sibylle Günter, PPPL Director Stewart Prager and Jim Stone from Princeton University’s Department for Astrophysical Sciences form the Leading Team of the centre. They set the main research direction and see that the centre comes to live – by organising common workshops, for instance. The research will focus on four main topics: Reconnection – changes in the magnetic field structure of a plasma ¬– is a phenomenon that occurs in tokamaks as well as in solar flares, for instance. Transport – especially turbulence – is another issue that is vital for fusion research and which is also studied in astrophysics. A third topic is suprathermal particles, which are crucial for the operation of ITER and future fusion devices, and which also play a substantial role in astrophysics. Lastly, the role of magnetic fields in astrophysical plasmas will be investigated. Besides 21 new postdocs, at least a further 26 scientists, some in senior positions at their institutions, are involved in the centre.

The new Max Planck Princeton Centre is one of a number of International Max Planck Centres, which the Society is currently establishing. To date nine centres have been set up, connecting top class international research partners with Max Planck Institutes in multidisciplinary cooperations. The centres provide the framework for the exchange of scientists, organise common workshops and trainings and promote the common use of research infrastructure.