Russian breakthrough discovery in plasma physics was approved by American physics research institutions

Фото ©Андрей Моргунов

Russian scientists have made a brand new discovery – a physical phenomenon that will improve the efficiency of intercontinental ballistic missile control, allow building the spacecraft capable of flying under extreme conditions of the outer space, as well as facilitate construction of the self-sufficient nuclear power plants designed for operating in such remote areas as the Arctic, for instance. According to some experts, the practical results of scientific research are so impressive that it deserves to be called "a discovery of the year".

It is not a secret that today the majority of scientists in all countries are mostly involved in the projects aimed at improving the efficiency of some certain processes. In the full sense of the word, real breakthrough discoveries are quite rare though. One of such discoveries was made at the end of the last year by a group of professors from St. Petersburg Mining University and the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering (Obninsk, Russia).

The name of their joint work, which started first in 2010, is unlikely to be known to non-specialists. It was devoted to "phase transition of amorphous fine carbon into a two-dimensional graphene-like structure intercalated with cesium in a low-temperature gas-discharge cesium plasma medium". However, for those who have deep understanding of the topic, the completion of the research work stands for the genuine scientific breakthrough.

For example, thanks to this discovery, Russian scientists became the first in the world to solve the problem of "thermionic thermal protection of hypersonic aircraft through reducing the temperature of heat-stressed components by a thousand degrees." As is well known, intercontinental ground-to-ground missiles fall into this group.

Фото ©

These rockets fly at an altitude of several tens of kilometers at a speed of up to 8 kilometers per second. In these conditions, the nose and wings are heated to several thousand degrees. Consequently, a layer of plasma forms on them, which functions in the way as electromagnetic screen does and distorts radio signals. Therefore, operators lose the ability to control the missile, also on the descent trajectory, which results in a deviation from the target objective. All over the world, the military costs on research aiming at eliminating plasma forming are huge, but the first who managed to achieve it are Russian scientists.

Indeed, apart from the military purposes, the discovery may be applied in the other fields as well. For example, thanks to it, the flights into outer space will be more safe and cost-efficient. The reason is that a new class of plasma energy devices, developed under the leadership of professors from St. Petersburg and Obninsk, is able to work more effectively in extreme conditions. It means that spacecraft electronics will be protected in a much better way from negative effects of high temperatures at takeoff and during re-entry, as well as from radiation fluxes in the airless space and other negative effects.

Another application area is self-sufficient nuclear power plants designed for direct conversion of heat to electricity. In other words, these nuclear facilities are small and mobile NPPs, which makes them easy to operate in remote areas of the Far North and the Far East – in those areas where it is specifically difficult to string power lines. As the researchers themselves say, "a basin-type water reactor with a thermionic converter will significantly increase the reliability and safety of the station in comparison to hull structures."

Besides, a similar facility may also provide electricity and heating to offshore gas and oil platforms. In this case, it will be placed into the water and integrated with power equipment and processing units. This way, the share of hydrocarbons required for self-production and crude pumping is reduced. As a result, the export potential of the field is increased. It is expected that practical implementation of this idea will take place for the first time ever during the development of the Shtokman field, which is currently suspended.

Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад /

According to Aleksandr Mustafaev, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Professor at Saint-Petersburg Mining University "The scientific significance of this discovery lies in establishing a physical mechanism of transformation of amorphous fine carbon on the metal base into a crystal graphene-like structure after being exposed to activation process with a low-temperature gas-discharge cesium plasma, which contains condensate of excited states of cesium. The end result is controlled generation of abnormally low values of electronic work function, extending to full absence of plasma. Our study has been already positively reviewed by experts from the Ioffe Institute (the Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences). In December last year, we were awarded International certificates for the discovery, and the Mining University was given an honorary certificate confirming that this discovery was made here, in Saint-Petersburg Mining University".

The works of Aleksandr Mustafaev may be found in the most prestigious Russian and foreign scientific journals, he is the author of more than 500 study guides, the owner of 12 patents, and now also of one discovery. For a series of particularly important works on space nuclear power and plasma nanotechnology, he was granted awards from the Presidium of the RAS (the Russian Academy of Sciences) on six occasions. He is also an expert at Rosatom as well as in a few other large-scale enterprises and universities, a member of the American Physical Society. He is continuously invited to hold lectures in the leading universities of France, Germany, England and other countries.

Since 2010, Alexander Mustafaev has been directing a joint international research program on energy and plasma technologies in cooperation with the Princeton University in New Jersey, USA. Incidentally, American colleagues have not yet been able to reach the same level of success in development of methods for plasma diagnostics, in comparison to Russian scientists.

Фото ©Андрей Моргунов

According to Igor Kaganovich, Principal Research Physicist at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, "Modern plasma processing technologies are based on very precise control of ion and electron velocity distribution functions for producing nanostructures. The techniques for measuring these indicators in different environments presented by Professor Mustafaev are unique, and they remain untapped in the US".

According to QS World University Rankings (QS is one of the most highly recognized ranking agencies in the world), Princeton is the thirteenth highest ranked university. As per Times Higher Education, it is placed even higher – seventh globally, after Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Stanford University, California and Massachusetts Institutes of Technology, and Harvard University. Among the institutions funding the scientific research at Princeton is the United States Department of Energy.

Mark Koepke, Professor of West Virginia University, former Acting Director of the Office of Science at U.S. Department of Energy, commented on the success of Russian scientists, "Throughout the last nine years of existence of the scientific program started jointly with the Princeton University, Saint-Petersburg Mining University has been annually participating in the international forums on plasma energy held by American Physical Society, and scientific achievements demonstrated by the university put the Mining University on a par with internationally recognized research and educational centers".

Фото ©Андрей Моргунов

The only thing left now is to implement discovered technologies on practice. In Alexander Mustafaev’s opinion, steel workers could be the first to do so. The reason is that fundamental discovery made by Russian scientists allows to create new advanced technologies for producing aluminum and silicone alloys. Some work on these technologies is already in process, and a few large privately-owned companies as well as the Ministry of industry and Trade of the Russian Federation are taking part in it.