Plasma research could indicate new age of phone manufacturing

Baylor students at the Baylor Science Building are handling chemicals in the science lab. A dusty plasma with a high magnetic field is an experiment being studied by Dustin Stanford. Kristen DeHaven | Multimedia Journalist

By David Garza | Reporter

Self-arranging dust particles may lead to a future with “self-assembling” phones.

Dr. Truell Hyde, a Baylor physics professor and director of the Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research (CASPER), is currently conducting research on dusty plasmas to gain greater insight.

Hyde said that dust arose as a problem in the etching of motherboards for electronics, which are etched by plasma beams. A motherboard is the main circuit board in an electronic that allows for communication between other components of the electrical system.

“Whenever you etched something, a piece of dust came off the board, [entered] the plasma system and would become charged and act as a problem because it created an eddy in the beam that was trying to etch the board,” Hyde said. This would cause the board to be etched incorrectly.

Hyde said that complex plasmas, low temperature plasmas with a dust particle, grew out of a need to solve this problem.

“[Companies] started using clean rooms and all these sorts of things, but they figured out that’s not going to help as much because we’re actually producing our own dust, so out of that grew the field of what is now known as complex plasmas,” Hyde said.

Hyde said that cells used in the testing of plasma meant to keep dust out of the system were then introduced to dust particles.

“The dust particles fell down through the plasma, then they floated, and not only floated— they formed crystal structures,” Hyde said.

Hyde said that the cells were then altered to insert dust into the system.

“What you find out is if you pick a very specific pressure and a very specific power and you establish very specific boundary conditions…the dust doesn’t get down there and go everywhere, it forms a line— it forms a chain,” Hyde said. “The chain is very stable; it can be hit with a laser beam and cause one particle to vibrate while all the rest are left alone. You can cause one particle to jump up the chain, but it does it all on its own.”

Hyde said that if the parameters of the cell are changed, instead of getting a chain, there is a two-dimensional sheet of particles that are all arranged in hexagonal symmetry.

“Once you get them established like that you can change the pressure and that solid will change from that into a liquid, into a gas,” Hyde said. “The next generation of cell phone is going to be something that’s sort of self-assembling and that’s what this is.”

While Hyde works on the experimental side of dusty plasmas, there is another group that works on the numerical side. Waco senior Dustin Sanford, a physics major, works with the numerical group.

Before working with Hyde, Sanford said he worked on simulations to model an experiment called MDPX, a dusty plasma with a high magnetic field.

“Before that I was working on the model that we are currently using to model all of the CASPER dusty plasma experiments,” Sanford said. “[I am now] in the process of transferring all of the physics code from the old model to the new version.”

CASPER teams conduct research “in a number of theoretical and experimental areas and offer both basic research as well as engineering and design opportunities for graduate, undergraduate and others.” For information on the center, visit the program website.