In Brief
Researchers are now able to describe the thermodynamic properties of electron gas in warm dense conditions for the first time. This ability will afford them insights into the fusion process inside stars, and possibly clean fusion energy.

Modeling Electron Behavior

Researchers have at last been able to model the behavior of electrons under extreme densities and temperatures, similar to those found inside stars and planets. Although electrons are ubiquitous in our universe, carrying electrical current and determining the physical properties of materials, physicists have never before been able to describe the ways large numbers of electrons behave together — especially at high densities and temperatures. This new research could shed light on the how matter behaves in fusion experiments, in turn leading to a new source of clean fusion energy.

Imperial College London Department of Physics Professor Matthew Foulkes told “Now, at last, we are in a position to carry out accurate and direct simulations of planetary interiors; solids under intense laser irradiation; laser-activated catalysts; and other warm dense systems.” He added, “This is the beginning of a new field of computational science.”

Image Credit: Imperial College London
Image Credit: Imperial College London

Although it is easy enough to describe the large-scale behaviors of electrons — such as how electrical current, resistance, and voltage work — quantum forces control the behaviors of electrons at the microscopic level, causing them to act like a quantum mechanical gas. Until the success of this research, scientists were only able to create simulations that described the behavior of this electron gas at very low temperatures. However, the centers of planets like Earth and stars are filled with warm, dense matter — matter that is also critical to fusion experiments.

With the help of computer simulations, the new work solves the equations that describe the electron gas precisely. The team has thus completely described the thermodynamic properties of interacting electrons in warm dense matter for the first time. Kiel University Professor of Theoretical Physics Michael Bonitz told “These results are the first exact data in this area, and will take our understanding of matter at extreme temperatures to a new level. Amongst other things, the 40-year-old existing models can now be reviewed and improved for the first time.”