Purposeful Plasma?

How cool are plasma ropes?! (Source: http://images.iop.org/objects/jio/labtalk/5/2/3/Figure1_thumb.jpg)

All the talk of plasma ropes and magnetic fields and such was very interesting, but what stood out to me most was the fact that the plasma lab uses as much electricity as the whole city combined. Going off of that, it also interests me that when anyone mentions that fact, they do so almost with a tinge of pride. I think I would be embarrassed to admit that my lab consumes way more than its fair share of electricity. What gives them the right to draw so much energy from the grid, round the clock, when the general public attempts to conserve energy wherever it can?

Negative effects of energy consumption. (Source: http://www.wrsc.org/sites/default/files/global_warming_0.jpg)

    Sure, the research that comes out of the lab is cool, and the ability to create plasma, in a machine, on Earth, is really quite amazing, but what is the real purpose? Aside from maybe a handful of obscure practical applications, the work that is done at the Plasma Lab at UCLA seems to only serve to increase the body of scientific knowledge, at best. As for the size of the machine and the frequency at which it runs, there seems to be very little indication that either of those factors is necessary for creating plasma. Rather, it seems that they primarily serve the purpose of setting UCLA apart from other institutions and giving it a point of competition. One could imagine USC, in a couple of years, coming up with an even bigger plasma machine that runs even more frequently and uses the amount of energy equal to the total amount of energy used in the whole state of California, solely for the sake of being able to say that they could create such a device when UCLA could not.

    All this is not to say that research for the sake of discovery and curiosity should not be conducted. On the contrary, I wholeheartedly support exploratory research that aims to broaden the body of scientific knowledge. Many important discoveries have been based on such research. I simply believe that such research should be conducted responsibly. Labs have a duty to the planet on which they are housed, as well as the the people that work in them and live around them. If it is not necessary to have such an energy-intensive machine run so often (or even if it is not necessary to have such an energy intensive machine run at all) then steps should be taken to reduce the impact of such a machine on the environment.

    If such steps cannot be taken, then the research (especially if exploratory), should possibly not take place. As an exception to this: if the primary goal of the Plasma Lab was to craft a renewable energy source for Los Angeles, that would take the city off the grid in an environmentally friendly way, then using an absurd amount of energy right now might be justified. If the ends substantially outweigh the means, then it might be okay. But this goes back to all the discussions about science not occurring within a bubble, and the duty of the scientist to the public. Scientists ought to carefully consider the implications of their research, and make responsible decisions accordingly.

Scientists engaging with the broader world, as they should. (Source: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/portals/0/Images/Science_institute/Scientific-Community-Development.jpg)

 

Sources

http://plasma.physics.ucla.edu/page/mission.html

http://universalteacher.com/1/advantages-of-exploratory-research-design/

http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/a5820/scientists-control-plasma-for-practical-applications/

http://www.ase.org/resources/top-5-reasons-be-energy-efficient

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2832882/