Dusty Plasmas: Physics


Dusty plasmas:

The charged microparticles are an integral part of the plasma - they are coupled through thecollection of ions and electronsfrom the background plasma. The dynamics of the charged microparticles is not simply due to background neutral or plasma flows – it is due to interactions with the background plasma.

Presence of the dust alters the plasma in several ways:

  • Modifies density and charge distribution
  • Modifies plasma instabilities
  • Introduces new dust-driven waves

Measurements of dust particles gives insight into:

  • Forces due to interaction with the plasma
  • Forces between the particles
  • Electrostatic potential of the plasma
  • Velocity distributions and thermodynamics of the dusty plasma
  • Phase transitions in soft matter systems
  • Self-organizing properties of matter


In the simplest model of dusty plasma behavior, the charged microparticles are suspended in a laboratory plasma due to a balance of forces. The gravitational force is pulling the particles downward while a combination of electric and drag forces act upon the grain to provide a dynamic equilibrium.

The complex interaction between the dust and the plasma gives rise to rich variety of behaviors including vortices, compressional and shear waves, surface waves, shocks, and many other phenomena. An example of the richness of dusty plasmaphenomena is illustrated inthe movie below. [Movie is in QuickTime format (.mov)]

This browser cannot play the embedded video file.


PSL research has investigated a variety of properties and diagnostics approaches for dusty plasmas. (Look for these authors in thePublicationsandStudent Theses)

  • Charging - Thomas (pub)
  • Particle image velocimetry (PIV) and stereoscopic particle image velocimetry - Thomas (pub), Williams (pub, thesis)
  • Dust acoustic waves - Thomas (pub)
  • Transport in dusty plasmas - Thomas (pub)
  • Thermodynamic properties of dusty plasmas - Williams (pub, thesis), Fisher (pub, thesis)
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