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Please find the answers to our most frequently asked questions below,
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What does NPL stand for?

Nuclear Plasma Laboratory. NPL Associates, INC. is incorporated in the state of Illinois.

What is plasma?

Plasma is a high temperature fluid composed of ions and electrons such that their charge cancels, giving the fluid a neutral charge macroscopically. (note: We are not talking about blood plasma which is completely different!!)

Indeed, the sun and stars are all examples of plasma, making this fourth state of matter the most plentiful in the universe. Mankind has only recently begun to understand the physics of plasmas, which are required for development of fusion power and are gaining increased industrial use for applications from semiconductor processing to promoting certain chemical reactions. NPL specializes in understanding how to control and use this unique fluid in various practical applications.

Does the problem have to involve plasma?

No, but most of the projects that NPL has handled to date have used plasmas since NPL has dedicated staff who are experts in this area of technology.

What is the unique expertise of NPL?

Energy systems involving low and high-temperature plasmas are of primary interest but NPL has some experience in other energy systems, especially related to direct energy conversion systems and distributed power systems.

Are there size/money limits to the problem that NPL can tackle?

NPL has considerable flexibility to effectively handle problems ranging from small to large projects. The key to this flexibility is the extensive list of consultants available to NPL, covering a wide range of technologies. This gives NPL the ability to expand staff to handle larger projects or new areas on rather short notice.

What are some typical problems NPL has tackled in the past?

NPL has had a variety of projects, ranging from the development of specialized control systems for fission reactors to development of a unique neutron source (using an inertial electrostatic confinement, IEC, fusion device) for industrial neutron activation analysis.

What are the main current problems under study?

The two main projects in progress now are a NASA funded study of the use of an IEC reactor for future deep space propulsion (see link above) and a DOE project studying the use of a flowing liquid metal to protect the metal wall in a plasma device, e.g., a fusion unit, from plasma induced erosion.

Whom should I contact to discuss a problem of potential interest?

Contact NPL here .

What is an IEC?

An IEC device uses inertial electrostatic confinement to contain a hot, fuseable plasma which produces energetic particles such as MeV neutrons and protons. Those particles have various commercial applications ranging from diagnostics to detect impurities in metals or other materials to medical treatments. NPL has been a pioneer in the development and use of IEC devices.

What are possible applications of the IEC?

In addition to those mentioned above, an important application of immediate potential use is as a source for neutron inspection of airport luggage; another likely use is in neutron-boron capture therapy of cancers.

Could I make an experimental IEC in my garage?

Yes, a number of home experimenters have done so. The basic IEC is quite simple to build. However, a word of caution. Since these devices produce energetic radiation, they should only be operated at very low voltages unless the operators have experience with radiation projects, use good shielding, and employ radiation monitors.  Please check with your local health officials before undertaking any experiments of this nature.

What is a plasma-wall interaction?

When plasma comes in contact with a solid surface, e.g., a containment vessel wall, the energetic particles can knock atoms out of the solid, causing serious erosion of the surface. Thus a containment vessel wall must be protected by keeping the plasma away from the surface or by using a sacrificial surface coating.

How can liquid metal protect a wall from plasma erosion?

The bombarding particles can become embedded in the fluid. While some erosion still occurs, the liquid is "self healing" in the sense that new liquid can flow in to replace that lost by erosion.

Does NPL ever team with other companies on projects?

Yes. NPL has subcontractors associated with many of its present projects.

Is NPL interested in joint proposals with other companies?

Yes. NPL has frequently teamed with other companies or university labs to provide the broad coverage needed to bid on projects.

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