Mark Kushner to head new $10M DoE plasma research center

The research that will be conducted at the center could lead to more efficient solar cells, finer-featured microchips and new medical tools.

Mark Kushner Enlarge
Mark Kushner

ANN ARBOR, Mich.— A new center at the University of Michigan College of Engineering will enable fundamental research on low-temperature plasmas—ionized gases with vast potential for practical technological advancements in fields such as energy, lighting, microelectronics and medicine. The Center for Predictive Control of Plasma Kinetics: Multi-phase and Bounded Systems is funded by a $10-million, 5-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy

The research that will be conducted at the center could lead to more efficient solar cells, finer-featured microchips and new medical tools that cut and heal tissues with plasma activated chemistry, rather than heat, as lasers do. Plasma surgical tools could allow wounds to heal faster, said Mark Kushner, the George I. Haddad Collegiate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Kushner is the new center’s director.

Plasmas, which are a distinct state of matter, are ionized gases. Plasmas are found throughout the universe.  Plasmas permeate interplanetary space.  The sun is a high-temperature plasma. On Earth, low-temperature plasmas enable crisp, light-weight television displays. They carve out the intricate features of silicon microchips. And they enable solar cells, among many other applications.

A key focus of the center will be to develop the science that will enable future researchers to control the velocities of the charged particles that make up low-temperature plasmas. Controlling the velocities of the particles will allow researchers in turn to control and direct the plasma’s energy—a vital step toward achieving these far-reaching technological advancements, Kushner said.

“The flow of energy in a plasma is very complex and difficult to control,” Kushner said. “In a plasma, you put energy in one place and it comes out somewhere else. The question is: How can you focus the energy you put in to excite atoms, molecules and surfaces in ways that can eventually be used in technological devices? How can you configure it to prevent the energy from oozing out where you don’t want it to?”  This control can be achieved by carefully crafting electric and magnetic fields applied to the plasma.

The Center will develop open source computer models that will allow researchers to enter a particular plasma configureation they want to create and receive information about what electric and magnetic fields they must apply to achieve those attributes.

“Low temperature plasmas create great societal benefits through the technologies they enable,” Kushner said. “This center will advance the fundamental science that will enable plasmas used in technical applications to provide even greater advancements in areas such as energy, materials and healthcare.”

The center is composed of researchers from nine other institutions: Ohio State University, the University of Minnesota, West Virginia University, the University of Houston, the University of California, Berkeley, Sandia National Laboratory, the University of Wisconsin, Princeton Plasma Physical Laboratory and the University of Maryland. Other U-M researchers involved are Iain Boyd, the Edward H. White, II Collegiate Professor of Aerospace Engineering; Alec Gallimore, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering; and Valery Godyak and Vladimir Kolobov,  consultants and adjunct professors in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Kushner is also director of the Michigan Institute for Plasma Science and Engineering, which has close to 30 faculty members in units across the university, including physics, engineering, space science and mathematics.

Mark Kushner:

Michigan Institute for Plasma Science and Engineering:

Michigan Engineering:
The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. At more than $130 million annually, its engineering research budget is one of largest of any public university. Michigan Engineering is home to 11 academic departments and a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. The college plays a leading role in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and hosts the world class Lurie Nanofabrication Facility. Michigan Engineering’s premier scholarship, international scale and multidisciplinary scope combine to create The Michigan Difference. Find out more at