UofM’s Gopalakrishnan Receives $750,000 U.S. DOE EARLY CAREER Award

July 2, 2020 - University of Memphis assistant professor Dr. Ranganathan Gopalakrishnan received a $750,000 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) EARLY CAREER Award for his research project “Thermodynamics and Transport Models of Strongly Coupled Dusty Plasmas.” This research was selected for funding by the DOE’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences.

The prestigious award is the first for the Herff College of Engineering and the University of Memphis.

“It is my sincere hope that this research will be one more step toward the realization of clean, limitless fusion energy,” says Gopalakrishnan, an assistant professor in the UofM’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “This EARLY CAREER Award will fund cutting edge theoretical research at the University of Memphis and will involve several graduate and undergraduate students during the next five years.”

Complex dusty plasmas are multi-species systems that consist of electrons, ions, neutral species and charged micro/nanometer-sized grains interacting with each other predominantly through electrical forces.

Examples of dusty plasmas include charged dust and grains in comets, planetary rings, dust in interplanetary and interstellar space. Dusty plasmas are also formed in thermonuclear fusion reactors in the space between the hot fusion core and the confining walls during material ablation.

Owing to ~100-10,000 units of electronic charges on the suspended grains, the electrostatic potential energy of the grains is either comparable or much higher than their kinetic energy. This warrants the inclusion of grain potential energy in addition to kinetic energy in the theoretical description of dusty plasmas. The DOE-funded theoretical investigation will quantify the effect of grain-grain, grain-plasma and grain-neutral gas interactions on the thermodynamic and transport properties of the grain phase.

The basic aspects of correlated grain motion of relevance to strongly coupled plasmas and dense granular systems will be quantified as thermodynamic and transport models to fortify the prediction capabilities of hydrodynamic/fluid simulation approaches in order to accurately describe dust grain dynamics: (1) near the walls of thermonuclear fusion reactors where material ablation leads to the formation of highly charged nano or microparticles, (2) in planet and asteroid formation processes via accretion of charged grains and particles and (3) of intentional or unintentional gas-to-particle conversion in plasma-based semiconductor manufacturing processes or plasma-based nanomaterial synthetic routes.  To read the complete abstract of Gopalakrishnan’s research, click here

“I am very pleased that Dr. Gopalakrishnan’s important work has been recognized by the Department of Energy,” said Dr. Richard Sweigard, dean of the Herff College of Engineering. ”Dr. Gopalakrishnan's research efforts support the energy security of the United States, vital to both our national security and our country's economic competitiveness.”

Gopalakrishnan is one of 76 scientists from across the nation – including 26 from DOE’s national laboratories and 50 from U.S. universities – to receive significant funding for research as part of the DOE Office of Science’s Early Career Research Program. The effort, now in its 11th year, is designed to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work. To learn more about the DOE Early Career Research Program, visit https://science.osti.gov/early-career.