Dr. Akira Hirose
Canada Research Chair in Plasma Science
Plasma is created when matter is heated to over 10,000 degrees. The Sun and stars are in a plasma state maintained by thermonuclear fusion reactions. For years, laboratories around the world have been working to harness this immense power. Now innovators like Dr. Akira Hirose, the University of Saskatchewan’s Canada Research Chair in Plasma Science, are finding exciting new applications for plasma research.
“Plasma is ideally suited for material processing and synthesis,”Dr. Hirose says. “Fabrication of sub-micron computer chips, for example, would not have been realized without plasma technology. Micro-fabrication requires precision etching, deposition and doping. This can be done most effectively in plasma discharges.”
Dr. Hirose is also Director of the Plasma Physics Laboratory at the U of S. “We recently synthesized diamond grains and carbon nanotubes in the Laboratory. Diamond is an ideal material for micro-electronics because of its high thermal conductivity, and materials based on carbon nanostructures are stronger than steel, though much lighter, and have unique electronic properties such as electron emission when heated.”
Potential applications of the technology include the use of carbon nanotubes in computer displays and the manufacture of diamonds for industrial strength cutting tools. Diamond grains recently synthesized in the Laboratory by Dr. Xiao and Dr. Hirose were analyzed at a synchrotron facility at the University of California at Berkeley, which confirmed their crystal structure. Dr. Hirose is looking forward to the completion of the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan.
Two more advanced plasma reactors are currently being built in the Plasma Physics Laboratory to synthesize diamond films and carbon nanostructures, and to improve the economic competitiveness of the processing technologies.
“The carbon nanotubes are still expensive to fabricate,” Dr. Hirose says. “The first step is to develop a means of economic mass production. We are working in collaboration with other research laboratories around the world, particularly in Japan.”
Plasma processing also has important applications. It can be used to apply a corrosion and wear-resistant coating on various surfaces, both metallic and non-metallic. It is also becoming increasingly important for cleaning, activating and sterilizing the surfaces of a variety of materials, such as those used in waste management.
While recognized for his leadership in plasma-based material science, Dr. Hirose first came to international prominence through his work in nuclear fusion. In the 1980s, he constructed Canada’s first ‘tokamak’ (doughnut-shaped) fusion device. In 1992, his theory for anomalous electron thermal conductivity in tokamak reactors and his prediction of two new instabilities in tokamak magnetic geometry were heralded as major steps forward in understanding the problems in achieving fusion.
With the funding provided by the Chairs Program, Dr. Hirose hopes to accelerate
development of innovative new technologies in plasma-based material science.
It is cutting edge research that will lead to major improvements in the
strength, quality and durability of materials used in a broad range of
medical and commercial applications.