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SSX Lab

A Turbulence and Plasma Astrophysics Laboratory

Department Overview

The Swarthmore Spheromak Experiment

In 2014, the Swarthmore Spheromak Experiment celebrated its 20th of year of research in plasma physics. Professor Brown has led a team of over forty undergraduates and three postdoctoral researchers in cutting edge laboratory research of astrophysical phenomena including magnetic reconnection and MHD turbulence.

A Bright Bluish Glow

A large glass chamber was recently installed on SSX in preparation for the development of the plasma pulser coils. A helium glow discharge gives off the characteristic bluish color.

Conference of Cutting Edge Energy

Profs Brown and Schaffner traveled to Washington, DC, to present SSX work at the annual ARPA-E Summit, a gathering of researchers looking at cutting edge energy technology.

SSX wins ARPA-E Contract

Swarthmore has received a portion of the $30 million ALPHA projected established by ARPA-E to study the prospects of a twisted Taylor state as a target for a fusion energy reactor. Read more...

SSX Wind Tunnel Extension

Turbulence and plasma research is conducted inside the Swarthmore Spheromak Experiment wind tunnel.

Plumes of Plasma

The magnetized plumes of plasma produced inside SSX (right image) are similar to coronal loops produced on the surface of the sun (left image). 

A Plasma Pulse

Over 100,000 Amperes of current is driven through Hydrogen gas to create the bright flash of plasma.

Probing Plasma Turbulence

The magnetic probe and Langmuir probe are ready to measure fluctuations when plasma emerges from the tunnel

All Hands on Deck

Swarthmore Students Emily Hudson '17 and Peter Weck '15 help clean the copper wind tunnel before it is inserted into the SSX chamber.

Simulating Plasma

Watch this simulation produced by Slava Lukin showing the evolution of the plasma inside SSX.

Video: SSX as a fusion and turbulence laboratory

Watch this video of Professor Brown discussing how fusion, turbulence, and laboratory astrophysics is studied on SSX.

A Bright Bluish Glow

A large glass chamber was recently installed on SSX in preparation for the development of the plasma pulser coils. A helium glow discharge gives off the characteristic bluish color.

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Paper Feature: Laboratory sources of turbulent plasma: a unique MHD plasma wind tunnel

Laboratory sources of turbulent plasma: a unique MHD plasma wind tunnel

A review of the diagnostics and analysis techniques used to study plasma turublence in the SSX wind tunnel. [pdf]

Paper Feature: Observation of a Relaxed Plasma State in a Quasi-Infinite Cylinder

Observation of a Relaxed Plasma State in a Quasi-Infinite Cylinder

This paper shows that an spheromak relaxes into a helical state and that the measured helical pitch matches the prediction based on Taylor Relaxtion theory. [pdf]

Paper Feature: Observation of turbulent intermittency scaling with magnetic helicity in an MHD plasma wind tunnel

Observation of turbulent intermittency scaling with magnetic helicity in an MHD plasma wind tunnel

Turbulent intermittency is observed to increase with higher injected magnetic helicity suggesting that the higher helicity states of the plasma allow for more reconnection sites and current layers. [pdf]

Paper Feature: Temporal and Spatial Turbulent Spectra of MHD Plasma and an Observation of Variance Anisotropy

Temporal and Spatial Turbulent Spectra of MHD Plasma and an Observation of Variance Anisotropy

Magnetic fluctuations in the SSX wind tunnel are observed to have more power in the direction perpendicular to the mean magnetic field than parallel. Both temporal and spatial spectra indicate a faster than Kolmogorv transfer of energy in inertial scales. [pdf]

Paper Feature: Turbulence analysis of an experimental flux rope plasma

Turbulence analysis of an experimental flux rope plasma

An initial report of turbulence metrics as measured in the SSX MHD wind tunnel including temporal spectra and intermittency. Comparisons to an MHD simulation made within the HiFi framework are also presented. [pdf]

Buzz Feature: Prof. Brown Gives Turbulence Tutorial at APS-DPP 2014

Prof. Brown Gives Turbulence Tutorial at APS-DPP 2014

At the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics conference (APS-DPP) this year, Professor Brown gave a tutorial talk on turbulence titled "MHD Turbulence: Observation and Experiment." The talk, which was attended by about 150 other plasma physicists from around the country, gave an overview of basic turbulence theory, then discussed four particular metrics used to analyze turbulence and specifically how these metrics are used on SSX. The talk incorporated research conducted by Swarthmore undergraduates Adrian Wan '15 and Peter Weck '15.

See the pdf version of the talk here.

Buzz Feature: Peter Weck '15 Presents Poster at APS-DPP 2014

Peter Weck '15 Presents Poster at APS-DPP 2014

Peter Weck '15 presented his research at the APS DPP meeting in New Orleans during the undergraduate poster session. Peter's work focuses on a relatively new turbulence analysis technique that looks at the permutation entropy and statistical complexity of a time series signal. See Peter's poster here.

Buzz Feature Vandervelde-Cheng Scholar 2014 - Emily Hudson

Emily Hudson '17 Named a Vandervelde-Cheng Scholar

Emily Hudson '17 was named a Vandervelde-Cheng Scholar for the summer of 2014. The Vandervelde-Cheng Scholarship supports summer physics research for Swarthmore undergrads. Emily's work this summer focused on studying the velocity of plasma plumes down the MHD wind tunnel on SSX. She presented her work at the Sigma Xi exhibition in the Science Commons.

Buzz Feature: SSX in APS-DPP Press Release

SSX among experiments profiled in APS-DPP press release

The field of plasma astrophysics is explored in various laboratory settings including MRX at Princeton, LAPD at UCLA, the dipole experiment at Columbia University and SSX at Swarthmore.

See press release here.

Buzz Feature: Grappling with the Unknown

SSX hits Swarthmore front page

Undergraduates Peter Weck and Adrian Wan are interviewed about research and publishing on the SSX in this news feature from the Swarthmore front page.

Grappling with the Unknown

Buzz Feature: Laboratory Astrophysics on Physics Central

Solar Winds and Hot Plasma Experiments

Turbulence research on SSX was recently profiled on the Physics Buzz blog along with experiments from UCLA and Princeton. All three research areas fall under the umbrella of laboratory astrophysics. The blog post includes a podcast with interviews of David Schaffner, Seth Dorfman (UCLA) and Masaaki Yamada (Princeton).

Physics Central Physics Buzz

Buzz Feature: Two new papers accepted to start 2015

Two Papers Accepted to Start the New Year

Two papers, "Permutation entropy and statistical complexity analysis of turbulence in laboratory plasmas and the solar wind" written by Peter Weck '15 and "Magnetohydrodynamic Turbulence: Observation and Experiment" by Michael Brown have been accepted January 2015 for publication in Physical Review E and Physics of Plasma respectively. The first is Peter's first publication and also represents the SSX lab's first foray into both information theory analysis as well as the use of solar wind data. Mike's paper stems from his Invited Tutorial from APS-DPP 2014 and comprises a tutorial on turbulence analysis techniques using a single time series from the WIND satellite in the solar wind. Online versions will be available as soon as they are published.

SSX Buzz Archive