PPPL presents Kaul award to physicists Yevgeny Raitses and Igor Kaganovich


Credit: Elle Starkman/PPPL Office of Communications

Pioneering research on the development of plasma science and new devices relevant to applications ranging from rocket propulsion to microchip etching have earned principle research physicists Igor Kaganovich and Yevgeny Raitses the 2019 Kaul Foundation Prize for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research and Technology Development. The honor, presented by Steve Cowley, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), includes awards of $7,000 for each physicist.

Kaganovich, a theorist, and Raitses, an experimentalist, collaborate on many projects and public-private ventures in the PPPL Plasma Science & Technology Department. Raitses, speaking for both physicists, said, “We are extremely honored to be receiving this award and are grateful for the recognition we have received. We promise to contribute more to the Lab, particularly on new research initiatives which we are starting here.”

Cowley applauded the initiatives during his annual State of the Laboratory address. “Yevgeny and Igor have been the driving force behind the low-temperature plasma science at PPPL for more than two decades — from plasma thrusters to groundbreaking work on nanostructures in plasmas,” Cowley said. “They are now playing a leading role in the Laboratory’s diversification.”

Endowing the Kaul award was the former and late PPPL Director Ron Davidson with funds from his prize as the 1993 recipient of the Award for Excellence in Science, Education and Physics from the Kaul Foundation in Tampa, Florida. Here are the 2019 Kaul honorees.

Igor Kaganovich

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 put Kaganovich on a winding path that brought him to PPPL. When he received his doctorate in plasma physics from the St. Petersburg Polytechnique Institute in 1992, “The Russian economy had collapsed and there was no money for science,” he said. Fellowships, including an initial $500 grant that the foundation of financier George Soros awarded in the 1990s, the German Humboldt Research Fellowship for work in 1996 Germany, and a position under the Fellowship of Belgian Office for Scientific Technical and Cultural Affairs in Belgium in 1997, kept him in science until 1998. Next stop was the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Houston, “since Europe offered very few scientific positions to non-Europeans including Russians at that time.”

Kaganovich joined PPPL as a postdoctoral fellow in 2000, working with former director Davidson on theory projects for heavy-Ion driven inertial fusion. He became a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2007 and has served as deputy head of the PPPL Theory Department since 2015, working with fellow deputy head physicist Stuart Hudson. He also is senior associate editor of the journal Physics of Plasmas.

Kaganovich’s wide-ranging interests extend from beam-plasma interactions and plasma spacecraft propulsion to plasma synthesis of nanomaterials – material no wider than the width of a human hair. He has authored or coauthored more than 150 papers in refereed journals, and is currently co-principal investigator of the PPPL Collaborative Research Facility on Low Temperature Plasma, and principal investigator on several projects for industry. He has mentored numerous interns, PPPL and Princeton University students, post-doctoral fellows and visiting graduate students from China and France.

Kaganovich works closely with Raitses on thrusters and plasma nanomaterial synthesis. With Raitses he notes that, “We are very happy that the Laboratory is expanding the work scope and taking a leadership in low-temperature plasma areas, and is recognizing the importance of this area, its contributions to the benefit of society, and is supporting experts in this field at PPPL.”

Kaganovich has developed collaborations with diverse industries. Together with physicists including Raitses, Alexander Khrabrov of PPPL and Beijing visiting student Jian Chen, he leads PPPL research to develop an advanced power switch for General Electric for a more secure and reliable electric grid. His work with Khrabrov, Dmytro Sydorenko of the University of Alberta and graduate student Andrew Tasman Powis of Princeton University has led to better understanding of the plasma reactor used in the process of microchip etching, and has led to a partnership with Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest chip maker.

His Kaul Foundation citation recognizes him, “For pioneering contributions to plasma kinetic modeling of collisionless electron heating in radio-frequency discharges, Hall thrusters, nanomaterial synthesis, sources for plasma processing, and plasma switches.”

Kaganovich and his wife, Tatiana, live in Princeton Junction, New Jersey. When not doing or supervising research he enjoys swimming, hiking and viewing opera with friends on medici.tv. He loves dogs and is looking to replace his late Doberman Pinscher. Dobermans can be quite strong-willed, he says, and “if you can deal with a Doberman you can deal with most people and problems.”

Yevgeny Raitses

Raitses leads highly diverse projects at PPPL. He has turned the Laboratory’s Hall Thruster Experiment (HTX), which he started in 1999 with PPPL physicist Nat Fisch, into a world-leading exploration of plasma propulsion physics. He heads the Laboratory for Plasma Nanosynthesis, a leading center for studying and optimizing plasma to synthesize nanoparticles, nanoscale materials used in everything from sportswear and pharmaceuticals to microelectronics.

During the past year Raitses launched, with Princeton University, the Collaborative Research Facility on Low Temperature Plasma. He leads the facility, which is open to U.S. researchers to advance understanding of this form of plasma, which is widely used in industry and differs from the superhot plasma that is used to fuel fusion reactions.

A native of Perm, Russia, Raitses emigrated with his wife, Pauline, and son, Roman, to Israel in 1990. There he earned his doctorate from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in 1997. While in Israel he met visiting physicist Fisch, who recruited him to PPPL to help develop the HTX. “Together we put the HTX on the map,” said Raitses, who joined the Laboratory in 1998.

Raitses’ fascination with carbon arcs led him to study plasma nanosynthesis. Researchers create the arcs by running current through a carbon anode, or terminal, to a receiving copper cathode terminal. While graphite evaporates at almost twice the temperature required for copper, it is gaseous carbon that forms the arc. “This was very special and the physics was not well understood,” said Raitses. “I wanted to understand the working of carbon arcs, the feedstock for the synthesis of nanotubes.”

His research has expanded in collaboration with Kaganovich into advanced plasma processing for microelectronics and to work with industry on switches for electrical grids. The two physicists are working with Samsung on the plasma production of microchips. Together with his team, including physicists Sophia Gershman and Shurik Yatom, Raitses also works in fields ranging from dentistry to plasma catalysis.

Raitses has authored or coauthored more than 130 journal papers, is a fellow of the American Physical Society, an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and an associate editor of the Journal of Applied Physics. He has advised or co-advised some 50 graduate and undergraduate students, visiting scientists and postdoctoral fellows. His Kaul Foundation citation recognizes his “pioneering research of coherent plasma structures and cross-field transport, plasma propulsion, and carbon and boron nitride nanotube plasma synthesis.” Cross-field transport is the flow of plasma across magnetic field lines.

Raitses and wife, Pauline, are Princeton residents. He is a passionate volleyball player who captains a team called Vortex in the Greater Princeton Volleyball Association. Vortex was league champion in the fall of 2018 and was runner-up this fall. “We lost this year,” Raitses said. “But volleyball is a great game while you are relaxing from work.”

PPPL, on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit energy.gov/science (link is external).


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