The plasma archipelago: Plasma physics in the 1960s

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With the foundation of the Division of Plasma Physics of the American Physical Society in April 1959, plasma physics was presented as the general study of ionized gases. This paper investigates the degree to which plasma physics, during its first decade, established a community of interrelated specialties, one that brought together work in gaseous electronics, astrophysics, controlled thermonuclear fusion, space science, and aerospace engineering. It finds that, in some regards, the plasma community was indeed greater than the sum of its parts and that its larger identity was sometimes glimpsed in inter-specialty work and studies of fundamental plasma behaviors. Nevertheless, the plasma specialties usually worked separately for two inter-related reasons: prejudices about what constituted ‘‘basic physics,’’ both in the general physics community and within the plasma community itself and a compartmentalized funding structure, in which each funding agency served different missions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-226
Number of pages44
JournalPhysics in Perspective
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 11 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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