Dr. Vladimir Kolobov

Dr. Vladimir Kolobov says that new ideas and newly funded projects in plasma science and engineering will make Alabama an attractive place for younger scientists and engineers.

Michael Mercier | UAH

As a lead researcher and codirector of Future Technologies & enabling Plasma Processes (FTPP), Dr. Vladimir Kolobov’s plasma physics career not only spans two FTPP research partner institutions, it spans an ocean.

In addition to FTPP, Dr. Kolobov is a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research and a technical fellow at CFD Research Corp. (CFDRC) in Huntsville. UAH is a part of the University of Alabama System.

In 2022, he partnered with those institutions to develop a computer striations model to help manufacturers that use plasma processes in semiconductor production and materials processing avoid undesirable plasma stratifications.

He’s been with CFDRC since 1997 and with UAH since 2009, but the first half of his life is associated with the former Soviet Union and Russia.

“I studied physics at the Leningrad/St. Petersburg State University in the USSR/Russia,” Dr. Kolobov says. “I obtained my master’s and PhD degrees in plasma physics from St. Petersburg University in 1984 and 1989, correspondingly, under the supervision of Prof. Tsendin – one of the lead scientists of the Soviet school of gas discharge physics.”

He says there is no doubt that plasma science and engineering (PSE) will continue to impact human society for at least the next decade.

“The FTPP program will be extremely significant for Alabama to become an important player in this field,” Dr. Kolobov says. “The success of this program will greatly depend on our teamwork and our efforts to identify and nurture emerging leaders in the field.”

To that end, he leverages his positions in both the private and public sectors.

“I continue research on PSE at the interface of industry and academia and share my knowledge and research experiences with postdocs and students,” he says. “I also continue generating new ideas and newly funded projects in the PSE areas to make Alabama an attractive place for younger scientists and engineers working in this field.”

An Alabama coalition of nine universities and a research corporation, FTPP is supported by a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and managed at UAH. It aims to transition plasma research into agricultural, manufacturing, space science, space weather prediction and other applications, establishing Alabama as a Southeastern regional hub for plasma science expertise and creating thousands of high-paying technical careers in the state and region.

For FTPP, Dr. Kolobov is responsible for the Foundational Research 1 thrust project, which focuses on particle kinetics, the development of theory and computational tools for low temperature plasmas, and their interactions with surfaces and interfaces. He’s responsible for arranging teamwork among multiple institutions working on several focus areas of the FR1 agenda.

“In my view, exciting new advances occur in the development of kinetic models at the interface of space and laboratory plasmas – the solar wind, gas discharges and multi-phase plasma – in studies of plasma self-organization at gas-solid-liquid interfaces for emerging engineering applications in biology, medicine and agriculture,” he says.

“On the computational front, the emergence of artificial neural networks for scientific computing opens new opportunities for solving direct and inverse problems. In FR1, we are exploring all these directions.”

Beginning in 2017, Dr. Kolobov was a co-director responsible for research on modeling and simulation for the previous NSF EPSCoR project called Connecting the Plasma Universe to Plasma Technology in Alabama (CPU2AL). Now, in the same role for FTPP, he says that FTPP support has been vital to his individual research interests.

“The FTPP support provides an opportunity to continue my research of electron kinetics and plasma self-organization and to explore new frontiers at the interface of physical and life sciences,” says Dr. Kolobov. “The FTPP project also opens opportunities to explore emerging fields of neuro-computing and machine learning for scientific research.”

One of the key designers of commercial multi-physics software for the engineering of plasma devices and processes called CFD-ACE+Plasma, Dr. Kolobov says that was an exhilarating time.

“The most memorable times of my career were associated with the development, worldwide marketing and engineering applications of the software product CFD-ACE+ for material processing and semiconductor manufacturing – the most important technologies at the beginning of the third millennium,” he says.

“The excitement of the teamwork developing this product and interactions with potential users of the software during user conferences left many memorable experiences. Seeing colleagues use your product was enjoyable and rewarding.”

During the last two decades, Dr. Kolobov has worked on the development of adaptive multi-scale computational tools for a broad range of applications from aerospace to nanoscience.

“During my tenure at CFDRC, I was a principal investigator of many successful Small Business Innovative Research and Technology Transfer projects funded by the NSF, the Air Force Research Laboratory, NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Dept. of Commerce,” says Dr. Kolobov. “I was also a principal investigator and a manager for numerous industrial projects from G.E., Samsung, TEL, Panasonic, MKS Instruments, ABB, Inficon, Honeywell, and other companies.”

From August 2009 to July 2021, he was a UAH co-principal investigator for a DOE Plasma Science Center for Predictive Control of Plasma Kinetics in Multi-Phase and Bounded Systems led by its University of Michigan principal investigator, Mark Kushner.

Dr. Kolobov became interested in gas discharges as an undergraduate and has continued studies of low-temperature plasmas during his entire career.

“My PhD thesis was devoted to near-electrode phenomena and plasma stratification in gas discharges,” he says. “After defending my PhD, I worked at the Institute of Hypersonic Velocities and taught a special course on plasma waves at the Physics Department of St Petersburg University.”

In the early ’90s, he was invited to work as a visiting scientist and postdoctoral fellow at the Universite P. Sabatier, in Toulouse, France, then at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and then at the University of Houston.