Skip directly to content

Center for Magnetic Self-Organization in Laboratory & Astrophysical Plasmas

Sub Type:
Research Areas:
NSF Award:

Center for Magnetic Self-Organization in Laboratory and Astrophysical Plasmas  (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

The Center for Magnetic Self-Organization in Laboratory and Astrophysical Plasmas (CMSO) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison is a Physics Frontiers Center (PFC) supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Physics Frontiers Centers foster major advances at the intellectual frontiers of physics by providing university-based resources not usually available to individual investigators or small groups.

CMSO aims to investigate basic problems in plasma physics, common to the laboratory and cosmos. Magnetic self-organization refers to the tendency of plasmas to rearrange spontaneously through processes that involve changing magnetic fields. Six phenomena form the focus for the Center, all of which can occur as part of the process of magnetic self-organization: dynamo, magnetic reconnection, angular momentum transport, ion heating, magnetic chaos and transport, and magnetic helicity conservation and transport. Understanding magnetic self-organization in plasmas is crucial to unraveling puzzles in astrophysical and laboratory plasma behavior. The Center unites laboratory plasma physicists with plasma astrophysicists for this purpose.

Education & Outreach

Educational public outreach at CMSO is centered around The Wonders of Physics program. The program includes a series of public presentations combined with tours of Physics Department laboratories. Each year over 2000 members of the Madison, Wisconsin community see a Wonders of Physics presentation. Although the presentations cover all areas of classical physics, special emphasis is given to plasma physics and its application to magnetic fusion energy and to astrophysical processes. Videotapes, computer software, and a lecture kit describing The Wonders of Physics are available for purchase. A traveling show, which makes about 100 performances each year, has also been developed to visit schools and other sites outside Madison. The Wonders of Physics Show has visited every county in Wisconsin.

Visit Web Site


  • image of plasma discharge during magnetic experiment
A plasma discharge during the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment