“ERVA is a network of excellency that I am proud to be able to join. The transformation of engineering research in the U.S. is a goal that is timely and important, and ERVA is poised to lead and be successful in this effort.”
Oliver Schmitz earned his doctorate in plasma physics. He is the Thomas and Suzanne Werner Professor in Engineering Physics and the associate dean for research and graduate affairs in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is responsible for stewarding the research portfolio in the college, enhancing industry collaboration and oversees research and research administration services.
Schmitz’s research interests are focused on plasma physics in the edge of high-temperature fusion energy plasmas and the intimate contact of such plasmas with material wall elements. This involves research on high density, low-temperature plasma phenomena and suitable diagnostic techniques to investigate such plasmas. An emerging and very actively pursued field of research is high-density plasma generation by helicon waves, a specifically efficient radio-frequency wave for high-density plasma generation. This method of plasma generation is of great promise for next-generation, plasma-based wake field accelerators. Schmitz and members of his research group are also active in the exploration of using new magnet technology and first-of-its-kind plasma wall interfaces to build a low-cost fusion-based neutron source.
Diagnosis of the effects of 3-D magnetic control fields requires enhanced diagnostic methods. Here, Schmitz’s particular interest is in the field of active spectroscopic methods to measure plasma parameters with non-invasive methods. Atomic physics is used to predict emission strengths of selected atomic emission lines. In turn, they can be used to reconstruct plasma parameters, given that appropriate atomic models are at hand. Development and deployment of such models and application in an integrated fashion with suited injection, observation and data acquisition system is a vital activity within Schmitz’s research interests. Exploration of the non-linear atomic processes requires access to easily adaptable plasma conditions. They are realized at UW Madison by means of helicon wave driven plasma test stands. Development of these helicon plasmas to high density at the considerable electron and ion temperatures is an integrated part of the overall research goal in Schmitz’s group. As an associate member of the AWAKE project at CERN, he and his group are working on the development of reliable and remotely operable plasma diagnostics based on spectroscopy to diagnose the high level of axial density homogeneity needed in this new accelerator concept.
Schmitz has conceptualized in the past two years a number of outreach activities. The declared goal of these programs in the K-12 education arena is to bring plasmas as a widely relevant state of matter to students of the entire basic education program. This includes regular visits to elementary schools in and around Madison. The "Plasma Show" developed for this purpose takes the kids on a journey from basic plasma phenomenon and appearances to the basics of electrostatics and hands-on experiments on a giant plasma ball. Schmitz also offers a research experience for high school students and teachers and a one-week "Plasma Academy,” in which a group of high school students and teachers develops teaching modules for the advanced placement physics curriculum in Wisconsin.