Plasma Physics in Canada

Michael Bradley

Plasma Physics in Canada is a research activity pursued across the country in both academic and industrial labs, and covers a wide range of thematic areas including fundamental physics of laboratory and space plasmas, laser-plasma interactions, plasma processing of materials, and plasma fusion research. These plasma research activities are united via two bodies, the Division of Plasma Physics (DPP) of the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP), as well the regroupement stratégique Plasma-Québec.

Fundamental Plasma Physics: Theoretical plasma physics is a major research focus at the University of Saskatchewan. In parallel with the STOR-M tokamak (discussed in more detail below), Prof. A. Hirose led a group focused on fundamental plasma interactions in fusion plasmas, while Prof. A. Smolyakov maintains a robust effort in fundamental plasma physics, investigating turbulence in crossed field configurations (e.g. Hall thruster and Penning-type configurations), in collaboration with experimentalists at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and researchers in Cadarache, France. Many of these theoretical investigations make extensive use of the BOUT++ code, developed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, USA.

Space Plasma Physics: Several research groups at the University of Saskatchewan Institute for Space and Atmospheric Physics (ISAS- Profs. Hussey, Koustov, McWilliams, Sofko, and St. Maurice) are active in studying the plasma physics of the ionosphere and magnetic reconnection processes, using radar and satellite techniques. At the University of Alberta, Profs. Marchand, Rozmus, and Sydora maintain an active effort on space plasma physics the Department of Physics.

Plasma Processing: Materials processing applications of plasma physics are a major focus of researchers at McGill University, the Université de Montréal (UdeM), and the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS), which are all located in the greater Montréal area. At the UdeM, the laboratory of Prof. Margot develops novel plasma sources and applications, while Optical Emission Spectroscopy (OES) of plasma discharges and innovative work on dielectric barrier discharges is carried out in the group of Prof. Stafford. A large group of researchers at the INRS Plasma Science and Applications Laboratory (directed by Prof. M. Chaker) are working on a variety of plasma processing techniques, with many focused on semiconductor applications. Also at the INRS, Prof. A. Pignolet leads a group focused on epitaxial thin films and nanostructured materials.

The Plasma Processing Laboratory at McGill University (Prof. S. Coulombe) focuses on plasma applications in non-fusion energy, nano-materials and nanostructured surfaces, and plasma source development.

Plasma materials processing is also a significant area of research at the University of Saskatchewan Plasma Physics Laboratory (UofS PPL), where Profs. Hirose and Xiao have pioneered plasma methods for the growth of carbon nanotubes and diamond-like carbon. Also, at the UofS PPL, Prof. Bradley’s group has developed a Plasma Ion Implantation system for processing of photonic materials and other applications.

Plasmionique is a Montréal-based company focused on the development of innovative plasma processing systems including Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP), microwave, and magnetron sputter deposition systems.

Meaglow Technologies is a company based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, focused on the development of hollow cathode plasma sources for Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) applications.

Medical Imaging: Dense Plasma Focus: The Dense Plasma Focus team at the University of Saskatchewan (led by Prof. Chijin Xiao) is developing a dense plasma focus device for the production of PET imaging isotopes. This work is funded by the Syvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation.

Laser-Plasma Interactions: A group in the University of Alberta Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (Profs. Tsui and Fedosejev) focuses on laser-plasma interactions, including both pulsed laser ablation/pulsed laser deposition (PLA/PLD) as well lasers for warm dense matter and plasma fusion studies, in collaboration with researchers at Stanford/SLAC.

The LULI group (Julien Fuchs) at the École Polytechnique is also active in the use of laser plasmas for the study of plasma fusion as well as astrophysical phenomena.

Plasma Fusion: Canada has significant activity oriented toward plasma physics for fusion energy, despite the current lack of a national fusion program. Historically Canada had two operational tokamaks, the STOR-M tokamak at the University of Saskatchewan and the Tokamak de Varennes (TdeV).

The TdeV machine was mothballed in 1997, with various components being distributed to other labs. The TdeV program was important in the training of Canadian plasma physicists; indeed, the current director of the MIT Plasma Science & Fusion Centre, Prof. Dennis Whyte, is an alumnus of the TdeV effort. Canada also made a bid in the early 2000’s to become the host nation for the International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor (ITER); however this effort was ultimately abandoned in 2004. After the TdeV closure and the ITER pullout, the STOR-M small tokamak (minor radius 12.5 cm, major radius 46 cm) at the University of Saskatchewan became the focus for tokamak research in Canada. Important milestones achieved at STOR-M include the first demonstration of AC tokamak operation, as well as innovative Compact Torus injection studies. STOR-M is also an active participant in the IAEA Co-ordinated Research Program (CRP) on “Joint Research using Small Tokamaks” and hosted teams from this collaboration for joint experiments in the summer of 2015.

Physics of the plasma edge and plasma-surface interactions were also the subject of study for many years by a team (Prof. Stangeby, Davis, Haasz) at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS).

Canada also hosts some very innovative private-sector entrants in the plasma fusion category. Magnetized target fusion is being aggressively pursued by General Fusion, a private company founded in the early 2000s in the greater Vancouver area.

Conclusion: Plasma Physics in Canada is an active area of research supported by provincial and federal agencies, and also forms the focus for a number of private companies. Active research programs across the spectrum of plasma physics from fundamental studies to industrial applications to plasma fusion are being pursued by numerous groups across the country. Despite the lack of a national fusion energy program, plasma fusion in particular remains an active area of interest for many plasma researchers in Canada, and a number of innovative fusion concepts are being explored.

Dr. Michael Bradley is Vice-Chair, Division of Plasma Physics (DPP), Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) and a member of the APS.