Plasma is the fourth and most common state of matter, representing more than 99 per cent of all normal matter in the universe. Although plasmas can have properties similar to those of liquids or gases, what sets them apart is that they consist of free charge carriers which makes them electrically charged and thus responsive to electric and magnetic fields. Plasma research not only gives us greater understanding of the universe, it also leads to a number of practical applications in everything from new technology to the prerequisites for fusion energy.
The research led by Svetlana Ratynskaia highlights many different aspects of the dynamics of solid particles in different plasma environments such as in space and in laboratories. Solid particles are omnipresent in space and in astrophysical plasmas and are formed unavoidably in laboratory plasma. These so-called dust particles can be a potential danger to industrial plasmas or fusion reactors and thus need to be controlled. On the other hand, solid particles can intentionally be introduced into laboratory plasmas to arrange themselves in structures that mimic those of solid matter and liquids. This allows for unique studies of the strongly connected phases of matter, thanks to the ability to visualise such systems at a microscopic level.