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A Brief History of Plasma I    
Kristian Birkeland (1867-1917), Norway    

Birkeland was among the first to speculate that the Northern Lights were charged particles ejected from the Sun, captured by the Earth's magnetic field, and directed towards the polar atmosphere. To prove this theory, Birkeland performed his famous 'Terella' experiments where he artificially created the aurora in the laboratory. His theories were initially laughed at, and it is only now in the space age that measurements from satellites are proving him correct. After a controversy that raged for one quarther of a century, the electric currents that flow through space are named after him – Birkeland currents.

"It seems to be a natural consequence of our point of view to assume that the whole of space is filled with electrons and flying electric ions of all kinds, and we have assumed that each solar system in evolution throws off electric corpuscles into space. It does not seem unreasonable therefore to think that the greater part of the material masses in the universe are not in the solar sytems or nebulae but in empty space."
Kristian Birkeland

Significantly, his approach to science was broad, comprising observation and laboratory experimentation in addition to mathematical modelling. He was not content with a merely theoretical approach, despite having trained as a mathematician himself.

He is probably Norway's greatest ever scientist, and many of his works are still used as reference materials. He is recognised for bringing plasma and electromagnetism into cosmology, but while many of his ideas are widely accepted, his cosmological theories are less well known. He died aged 49 just when a working committee was in the process of nominating him for the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Birkeland has been called the first 'space scientist'. He was a full professor of physics at the University of Oslo aged just 31.

  Kristian Birkeland
Sydney Chapman (1888-1970) was regarded as a leader in the field of interplanetary magnetospheric physics for a while after the death of Birkeland. He took an approach very similar to that of Big Bangers, relying heavily on mathematical models, and refused to even discuss many of Birkeland's ideas. According to his models, currents were confined to a sphere that extended little beyond the Earth. He failed to recognise the complex three dimensional relationship between the Earth's magnetosphere and the currents flowing from the Sun. He proposed, in contradistinction to Birkeland's ideas, that currents were restricted to the ionosphere, and that the Earth moved through a vacuum. He was wrong.   "Gravitational systems are the 'ashes' of prior electrical systems." Hannes Alfvén
Irving Langmuir (1881-1957), USA    

Langmuir (1881-1957) was the first to use the term 'Plasma' in 1927, borrowing it from Blood Plasma to describe the almost life-like and self-organising behaviours of a plasma when in the presence of electrical currents and magnetic fields.

He discovered Plasma Sheathes, now called Double Layers, having observed the electrons and ions of a plasma separating during experimentation. DLs are one of the most important features of plasma behaviour. He also defined and explained the term 'valence' as part of his description of the atom. Few textbooks, however, recognise the influence that Langmuir had on the development of our understanding of the nature of the atom.

He became the first 'non-academic' chemist to receive the Nobel Prize, an accomplishment he realised in 1932. Langmuir probes, which can be used in space, are named after him.

[There] are cases where there is no dishonesty involved but where people are tricked into false results by a lack of understanding about what human beings can do to themselves in the way of being led astray by subjective effects, wishful thinking or threshold interactions. These are examples of pathological science. These are things that attracted a great deal of attention. Usually hundreds of papers have been published upon them. Sometimes they have lasted for fifteen or twenty years and then they gradually die away.
Irving Langmuir

  Irving Langmuir
Hannes Alfvén (1908-1995) - The Father of modern Plasma Physics, Sweden    

Alfvén (1908-1995) is generally regarded as the Father of modern Plasma Physics. He continued the work of Birkeland, feeling very much in spirit with him, and eventually won a Nobel Laureate for his ground-breaking contributions. He was not always highly regarded by the scientific establishment because of his controversial ideas, however, and suffered no little condescension and ridicule in his lifetime.

In fact, it now seems bizarre that he wasn't awarded the Nobel Prize until 1970, especially considering his many fundamental accomplishments. For some time he was forced to publish in journals that did not enjoy international readership. His ideas finally became known to the general scientific community through his ground-breaking book, Cosmical Electrodynamics, published by Oxford University Press in 1950.

Alfvén took a practical and intuitive approach to science, insisting that theories of cosmological phenomena must agree with laboratory experiments. (The definition of 'laboratory' being broadened to include experiments in space.) Having started out as an engineer, his methods were in direct opposition to the approach generally favoured by Big Bangers, that of starting-out from idealised mathematical principles.

In 1937 Alfvén proposed that our galaxy contained a large-scale magnetic field and that charged particles moved in spiral orbits within it, owing to forces exerted by the field. Plasma carried the electrical currents which create the magnetic field.

"In order to understand the phenomena in a certain plasma region, it is necessary to map not only the magnetic but also the electric field and the electric currents."
Hannes Alfvén

While many of Alfvén's theories are now well known, like those of Birkeland, the cosmological implications of his work also remain to be fully recognised. Ironically, some have put this down to the very simplicity of many of these ideas.

"The peer review system is satisfactory during quiescent times, but not during a revolution in a discipline such as astrophysics, when the establishment seeks to preserve the status quo."
Hannes Alfvén

Hannes Alfven
"I have never thought that you could obtain the extremely clumpy, heterogeneous universe we have today, strongly affected by plasma processes, from the smooth, homogeneous one of the Big Bang, dominated by gravitation." Alfvén
Winston H. Bostick (1916–1991), USA    

Bostick coined the term Plasmoid. He discovered plasma focus and plasma vortex phenomena, and he simulated cosmical astrophysics with laboratory plasma experiments showng that Hubble expansion can be produced with repulsive mutual induction between neighboring galaxies acting as homopolar generators. Much of his work is not as yet accepted by mainstream science.

"...my experimental work in plasma physics for the last 36 years has shown that under many different circumstances plasmas containing nonrelativistic or relativistic electrons can spontaneously organize themselves into force-free, minimum-free-energy vortex filaments of a Beltrami morphology."
Winston H. Bostick

Eugenio Beltrami mentioned in the quote above was an 18th century Italian mathematician who developed a powerful differential equation that can be used to mathematically describe the morphology of helically twisted filament pairs, as seen in DNA and Birkeland currents. Bostick's work has been repeatedly verified by Hannés Alfven and Anthony Peratt.

The compact energetic activity we witness at the center of most galaxies almost certainly results from the plasma focus phenomenon (as opposed to the mathematical abstractions called black holes favoured by popular science), hence the bright glow we occasionally get to see through more powerful telescopes.

Thunderbolts article

  Winston H. Bostick
David Bohm (1917-1992), USA    
Bohm was the plasma theoretician and cosmologist who discovered the instabilities and resistivity of magnetized plasmas that now bear his name.  

"The universe is an unending transformation in flux whose previous states we are not privileged to know." David Bohm

d Bohm

There are many others who probably should be mentioned, but this web site aims only to serve as an introduction to the emerging paradigm.

Today, a growing body of scientists, engineers, and independent researchers are continuing the work of these pioneers. They have taken up the gauntlet in defiance of some of the more entrenched thinking that still permeates the mainstream. See the links page for further details.


Both Hannes Alfvén and Irving Langmuir won Nobel Laureates for their work, and Kristian Birkeland probably would have done had he lived long enough. It seems unfortunate, therefore, that their work in cosmology, and the implications of their work in this field, remain largely unrecognised.

Alfvén's criticism of the Big Bang, it has to be said, certainly rankled with some of the powers that be. Notably, all of the plasma pioneers had a rebellious streak in them and refused to parrot orthodoxy.

"To try to write a grand cosmical drama leads necessarily to myth. To try to let knowledge substitute ignorance in increasingly larger regions of space and time is science."
Hannes Alfvén

  “I have no trouble publishing in Soviet astrophysical journals, but my work is unacceptable to the American astrophysical journals.” Hannes Alfvén