IPP Director Eric Sonnendrücker is honoured with the Dawson Award
Every year, the American Physical Society (APS) gives the John Dawson Award for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research to scientists for outstanding achievements in plasma physics.
One of the three award winners in 2023 is Prof. Dr. Eric Sonnendrücker from the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP).
Eric Sonnendrücker heads the Numerical Methods in Plasma Physics division at the IPP in Garching and is also a professor at the Technical University of Munich. The mathematician is now being honoured by the APS together with the theoretical physicists Hong Qin from Princeton University and Philip J. Morrison from the University of Texas at Austin. The three receive the prize together “for establishing and shaping the field of structure-preserving geometric algorithms for plasma physics.”
"I have known Phil Morrison and Hong Qin for about two decades," recalls Prof. Sonnendrücker. “Even then, we exchanged ideas about it, but at that time we were not yet ready. Then, about ten years ago, we started actively building an international community around our new concept.” Philip J. Morrison subsequently stayed at IPP for a year-long guest residency and also pushed the project forward during that time. Hong Qin was in contact with both of them and published the first scientific article on geometric Particle In Cell methods in 2016. The second followed in 2017 from IPP.
"The idea is to use differential geometry to develop numerical methods for describing plasma physics," explains Eric Sonnendrücker. "With this, we want to describe physical processes that take place in nuclear fusion experiments, for example, over longer periods of time than is possible with previous methods." The problem: If you consider for example the Vlasov-Maxwell equations or the formulae of magnetohydrodynamics exactly, you end up with an infinite-dimensional space. The trick is to simplify the systems of equations so that they can be broken down to a finite number of dimensions and still describe accurately the physics while exactly conserving the mathematical structure or the original model. Prof. Sonnendrücker describes the mathematical trick: "We map the structures onto a grid, then we can translate them into computer codes and simulate them with supercomputers." Meanwhile, researchers worldwide are working on this task. "In the next step, we will apply our codes to real physics. We hope this will allow us to do more robust simulations than is possible with current methods."
The John Dawson Award will be presented on 2 November 2023 at the APS Division of Plasma Physics annual meeting in Denver, Colorado. The prize is endowed with a total of 5000 dollars.