Nine Alabama universities partner on plasma science and engineering technology

A $20 million National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant is supporting the research

Gary Zank, principal investigator on a $20 million, five-year, 10-entity partnership to develop plasma science technologies. Photo by Michael Mercier/UAH.

Nine Alabama universities and one private firm are partnering on a new $20 million, five-year effort to develop transformative technologies in plasma science and engineering. The partnership is being led by the University of Alabama in Huntsville and funded through the National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

The goal of the Future Technologies enabled by Plasma Processes (FTPP) initiative is to develop new technologies using plasma in hard and soft biomaterials, food safety and sterilization and space weather prediction.

UAH is working with the University of Alabama, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Auburn University, Tuskegee University, the University of South Alabama, Alabama A&M University, Oakwood University and CFD Research Corp. In addition, three national laboratories — Los Alamos National Lab, Sandia National Lab and Princeton Plasma Physics Lab — will participate in the initiative.

Although different in aims, research goals and scope from the previous NSF EPSCoR grant awarded in 2017, the new FTPP grant will build on plasma expertise, research and industrial capacity, as well as a highly trained and capable plasma science and engineering workforce, across Alabama.

“In this regard, the grant is very closely aligned with the Alabama EPSCoR State Science and Technology Roadmap and the state’s economic development plan, Accelerate Alabama,” said Gary Zank, FTPP’s principal investigator, director of UAH’s Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research and the Aerojet Rocketdyne chair of the Department of Space Science.

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Both plans prioritize advanced manufacturing, agricultural and food products, biosciences and biotechnology, chemical and petrochemical, energy, forestry products, information technology and cybersecurity, metal and advanced materials, nanotechnology, plasma science and transportation.

The FTTP will exploit low-temperature plasma physics to develop technologies for advanced materials, agriculture, food safety and health-related applications. It will use space plasma physics from the sun to the ionosphere to develop actionable space weather forecasting and nowcasting models to mitigate potentially damaging effects on spacecraft, humans and infrastructure.

“Not only are the problems to be investigated in the FTTP program among the most challenging intellectually, they have enormous societal benefits and commercial implications,” said Zank. “FTPP will bring the resources and vision to harness this group, expand the program and build a diverse plasma consortium that is pre-eminent in the field. I am very excited about what the next five years will bring.”

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