General Atomics Creates Free App for Plasma Physicists

General Atomics

Even in the extremely complex world of plasma physics, it turns out there’s an app for that.

San Diego-based General Atomics (GA) is making its first foray into mobile application development, deploying a new app to help physicists work out the characteristics of plasmas on the fly. Called Plasmatica, it takes up to seven basic input parameters – ranging from magnetic field to electron temperature to ion mass factor – and outputs many fundamental properties of the plasma. The parameters are helpful to researchers because they describe intrinsic plasma behaviors, e.g., how often particles will collide with each other.

“Before this, most of us just would have written a little program on our computers to do these calculations, and in fact a bunch of us have them,” said David Pace, the GA physicist who spurred the development of Plasmatica. “We thought it would be nice to give back to the research community by creating a standardized app that everyone can use when they’re not at their computers. It’s been exciting to get some initial feedback that is guiding us to a new round of improvements.”

GA operates the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, the largest magnetic fusion facility operating in the U.S. and a world-renowned research center for plasma physics. Pace and his colleagues often find themselves making these types of calculations when they are working on the DIII-D tokamak, which is a toroidal vacuum chamber in which plasmas are heated to millions of degrees to initiate nuclear fusion. Research time on DIII-D is extremely valuable – the facility can accept only about one out of every five experimental proposals – so having those calculations accessible on a mobile device can save precious minutes when researchers are trying to line up the next experiment.

Pace created a similar widget when he was in graduate school and thought it would be helpful to have GA bring it into the app age and share it with collaborators and the wider plasma community. The app, which incorporates two formularies commonly used by plasma physicists, has been tested by researchers and is getting solid reviews. Plasmatica is available for free in both the Android and Apple app stores.

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