Seth Davidovits wins 2018 Marshall N. Rosenbluth dissertation award

Thursday, Jul 12, 2018
by Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University

Seth Davidovits, a 2017 graduate of the Program in Plasma Physics in the Princeton University Department of Astrophysical Sciences, has won the 2018 Marshall N. Rosenbluth Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award presented by the American Physical Society (APS). The award, named for distinguished plasma physicist Marshall Rosenbluth whose career included 13 years at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) from 1967 to 1980, recognizes “exceptional young scientists who have performed original thesis work of outstanding scientific quality and achievement in the area of plasma physics.” 

Davidovits’ dissertation focused on the theory and simulation of turbulence in compressing fluids, with an emphasis on effects unique to plasma, such as a novel sudden viscous dissipation mechanism. These investigations led to a variety of insights, and a new model for turbulence in compressing plasma; the dissertation also applied these insights in a variety of application areas, including inertial-confinement-fusion and astrophysical plasmas. His thesis adviser was Professor Nat Fisch, Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University and Director of the Program in Plasma Physics, which is based at PPPL.

“The way we originally got onto this topic was through experiments by Professor Yitzhak Maron at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel,” Davidovits said. “The results were pretty unexpected and led us to look for new ways to exploit or prevent turbulence in compressed plasma.” 

A native of Andover, Massachusetts, Davidovits was named to an all-conference doubles team as a tennis player in high school. He earned a B.A. in applied physics from Columbia University in 2010, graduating as valedictorian of Columbia Engineering. As a graduate student at Princeton, he held a Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship. 

His thesis research was supported in part through research grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), and the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) of the DOE.  The Israeli Binational Science Foundation, through a joint program with NSF, supported related experimental research at the Weizmann Institute.

“This thesis was a remarkable achievement,” Professor Fisch said. “It features impressive and comprehensive advances across theoretical, computational, and experimental plasma physics, exploring very fundamental phenomena which happen to have clear applications. Through the support of the NSF and the joint NSF-BSF program, Seth was also able to work with the Weizmann group to develop a new way of accounting for turbulence in interpreting data.  That led to greater internal compatibility within multiple methods of measurement, which in turn lent additional support for the unusual results previously reported by Weizmann.  With this grounding in experiment, this thesis is now positioned to be unusually influential.”

Davidovits is now a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton, where he holds a DOE Fusion Energy Sciences postdoctoral fellowship. He is a member of the American Physical Society and was chosen as a 2018 Howes Scholar. Dr. Davidovits continues to pursue the compression of turbulent plasma, with applications in inertial-confinement-fusion experiments, Z-pinch experiments, and astrophysical plasmas. 

Davidovits becomes the seventh graduate of the Program in Plasma Physics to receive the Rosenbluth honor since the APS first awarded it in 1986. Previous winners were: Cary Forest, 1992; Michael Beer, 1996; Mark Herrmann, 2000; Yang Ren, 2008; Jong-Kyu Park, 2010; and Jonathan Squire, 2017. 

The Program in Plasma Physics is a graduate program within the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. Students are admitted directly to the program and are granted degrees through the Department of Astrophysical Sciences. The award announcement appears on the APS website: