A plasma is a ionized gas where free electrons and ions are constantly bumping into each other. The plasma state of matter makes up over 99% of the visible universe. When dust particles and grains are introduced into a plasma, the particles will becomed charged and interact through electrostatic and hydrodynamic forces. For a dense system of particles in a weakly-ionized plasma, the electrostatic force between the particles is dominant, so that the particles can form crystalline structures: a model "playground" for studying lattice dynamics in condensed matter.
In our lab we are using dusty plasmas to create highly dynamic, many particle systems. Our setup involves a confined dusty plasma illuminated by a sheet of laser light. The video above showcases the intermittent dynamics that can occur in large, crystalline systems. The video below highlights our 3D tracking method for small collections of dust particles. Here the particle color represents it's position in the vertical (out of plane) direction. Using this imaging technique, we are currently using machine learning methods to infer the complex forces that drive dusty plasma systems.