America’s leading plasma science research physicists will be looking to a West Virginia University professor to keep millions of dollars worth of cutting-edge plasma research on track, research that may – some decades down the road – lead to reliable energy sources.

WVU’s Robert C. Byrd Professor of Physics Mark Koepke has become the recognized scientific authority in curiosity-driven plasma science within the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences, in Germantown, Md., where he began a two-year appointment at FES last summer.

Recently, he was assigned additional responsibilities within DOE that will keep him at the heart of the nation’s key research efforts in plasma physics. Koepke will coordinate the development and execution of a strategic scientific plan for research on the properties of plasma across a wide range of physical conditions. It is a role that will require him to consult and negotiate with leading government and scientific personnel on a national and international basis.

The plasma physics group in the WVU Department of Physics in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences began in 1987 when Koepke arrived in Morgantown. Today, the group consists of five additional professors, one research associate and more than a dozen graduate and undergraduate students.

During his assignment, Koepke will work with FES Director Dr. Ed Synakowski within DOE’s Office of Science as senior scientific coordinator for basic plasma science where he will build a network of expert program managers to carry research forward before he returns to the WVU campus. Koepke will return teaching full-time in 2011.

“Plasma is a dynamically rich and technologically potent state of matter, beyond solid, liquid, and gas,” Koepke explained. “Fusion is the nuclear process of joining two atomic nuclei to deliver energy and it is considered environmentally superior to fission – the conventional energy-producing process used in today’s nuclear power plants. But so far, it hasn’t been used in a commercial reactor.”

As part of his assignment, Koepke will coordinate the planning and execution of DOE’s participation in a research project in cooperation with DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration that will explore ways to create, probe and control new states of matter at very high temperature, pressure, density and magnetic field strength. This research could lead to a clean, safe and reliable energy source for the country.

Dr. Steve Eckstrand, acting division director of research at FES, said Koepke’s extensive experience in plasma science research makes him valuable for coordinating research programs in basic plasma science and collaborating with other government agencies that support fusion energy science research.

In addition to establishing research policies for investigations of plasmas, FES supports negotiations on the DOE’s participation in international collaboration in all phases of fusion science and technology to ensure optimal utilization of the program resources.



CONTACT: Rebecca Herod, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
304-293-7405, ext 5251,

Prof. Mark Koepke, Professor, WVU Dept. of Physics,

Dr. Steve Eckstrand, Acting Research Div. Director, DOE SC-24.2

Dr. Edmund Synakowski, Assoc. Director, DOE SC-24,

Prof. Earl Scime, Chair, WVU Department of Physics

Dr. Curt Peterson, WVU Vice President of Research and Economic Development

Prof. Fred King, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences