Complex Plasmas: A Computational Investigation of Self-Organizing Systems




Terrell, Abbie

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Complex, or dusty, plasmas are ionized gases in which nanometer-to-micrometer sized microparticles are suspended. When dust particles are introduced in the plasma environment, they become negatively charged and interact with each other and the plasma background, self-organizing into stable structures. These far-from-equilibrium systems serve as a useful model system to study processes of self-organization in other complex systems. This thesis focuses on the numerical modeling of the Plasma Kristall-4 (PK-4) experiment, currently on board the International Space Station, through an N-body Molecular Dynamics simulation called DRIAD (Dynamic Response of Ions and Dust). It is shown that the dust cloud undergoes a phase transition that is studied quantitatively in multiple dimensions. The dust phase transition exemplifies the presence of analogous systems in physics, leading to a discussion of the relevance of studying physical phenomena though model systems.