National Nuclear Security Administration

Star behavior gets a gold star: Sandia physicist wins major physics award for 10-year study of the sun

August 22, 2016

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 Physicist Jim Bailey inspects a wire array at Sandia’s Z machine that will heat foam to roughly 4 million degrees until it emits a burst of X-rays that heats a foil target to the interior conditions of the sun.

By testing bits of iron at the temperature of the sun, physicist Jim Bailey at NNSA’s Sandia National Laboratories and his team produced data to improve astrophysicists’ models of behavior of stars. For his work, Bailey will receive the American Physical Society John Dawson Award. The award annually recognizes excellence in plasma physics research.

Bailey used Sandia’s Z machine, one of the world’s pre-eminent scientific instruments, to conduct the experiments that produced the award-winning new research. Sandia’s Z machine was developed to help NNSA ensure the reliability and safety the nuclear stockpile by allowing scientists to study materials under extreme conditions. Bailey subjected iron to these extreme conditions to discover it can absorb much more X-ray radiation near the edge of the sun’s radiative zone than previously thought.

Not only will the new data will help improve theoreticians’ models of star behavior, they demonstrate to the stellar and high-energy density physics communities how pulsed power is becoming increasingly important as an experimental platform to study laboratory astrophysics.

The award is named for John Dawson, who realized computers could model behavior that had previously only been studied in laboratory experiments. Simulation has also become increasingly important to NNSA’s mission set in the absence of underground explosive testing.

Bailey will receive the award at the APS Division of Plasma Physics meeting in November, in San Jose, California. Learn more about Bailey’s work in extreme physics, and read NNSA’s annual stockpile stewardship report.