Dr Thomas G White

Laboratory Astrophysics and High Energy Density Physics at the University of Nevada, Reno

Congratulations Jacob

Congratulations, Jacob, for winning the 2021 Goldwater Scholarship, the only student in Nevada to do so. What an incredible well-deserved achievement! 2021 Goldwater Scholars listed by Institution State

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I am thrilled to receive the NSF early career award and am grateful for the support of the NSF! Hear more about it in my interview with the college of[…]

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Jacob Molina wins NURA

Congratulations to Jacob Molina for receiving the Nevada Undergraduate Research Award! This grant serves to fund and support his further investigations into the changing material properties of ion-damaged warm dense[…]

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High Energy Density Physics

High Energy Density Physics is the study of matter at pressures above 1 Mbar, or around 1 Million atmospheres. Such matter is common throughout the universe, existing in planetary interiors (both solar- and exo-planets), the crusts of neutron stars and during the path to inertial confinement fusion.

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Warm Dense Matter

This compressed state is typically defined by temperatures of tens of thousands of Kelvin and densities comparable with those of solids. It is a complex state of matter where multi-body particle correlations and quantum effects must be considered. With relatively few observational data points we much turn to both simulations and experiments to understand their properties. For example: What is the pressure at the center of Jupiter? What is the sound-speed or viscosity at the center of Trappist-1e? An Earth-sized exo-planet just 40 light-years away!

Inertial Confinement Fusion

Inertial confinement fusion efforts use high-powered lasers to compress small captules of Deuterium and Tritium to extremely high densities. These capsules reach temperatures in excess of 100 million degrees Celcius and, for a very small period of time, a mini version of a star is created. The goal of all this work is create an unlimited, clean energy source here on earth that can help us deal with the dwindling supply of fossil fuels and other natural resources.

Laboratory Astrophysics

In laboratory astrophysics we recreate an aspect or phenomena of an astrophysical situation in the lab. By creating thse space plasmas here on Earth they can be studied in great detail. Our findings aid our interpretation and understanding of both observational and computational astrophysics.

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Supersonic Turbulence

In our most recent work we investigated the statistical properties of supersonic turbulence; the faster-than-sound stochastic motion of the plasma. Understanding how these plasmas behave informs our understanding of molecular clouds and the processes within, including star formation.

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High-Powered Lasers

On Earth, we can generate high energy density states of matter using high-powered lasers. These lasers rapidly deposit large quantities of energy into an extremely small area and, on a nanosecond timescale, are capable of reproducing a multitude of astrophysical situations. We perform experiments on table-top laser facilities here at UNR, the larger laser in the world – the National Ignition Facility, and the three kilometer long next generation light source – LCLS.

Numerical Simulations

In order to model our experimentals we perform a number of simulations across a range of temporal and spatial scales. Atomistic simulations that employ molecular dynamics are capable of following the trajectory of every particle. If we attempt to treat the electron fully quantum mechanically, such as in Density Functional Theory or Wave Packet Molecular Dynamics, we are limited to systems of just a few hundred ions, even when utilizing highly parallelized high-performance computing systems. Classical simulations employ the Born-Oppenheimer approximation to avoid treating the electrons, but in doing so are able to treat systems consisting of a few millions atoms. However, this still represents micron sized systems, around 1/100th of the size of a human hair. To model even larger systems we must resort to continuum methods such as magneto-hydrodynamics.

Talks, podcasts, and outreach

Dr Thomas White discussing Explosions, Lasers and Supernova at a recent happy hour with a scientist event in the Laughing Planet Restaurent in Reno, NV.  Payment for this event was a free beer (shown in the bottom left of the photo).

College of Science Inaugural Podcast: More than 100 years after Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves—ripples in space-time caused by violent cosmic collisions—LIGO team scientists confirmed their existence using large, extremely precise detectors. Listen as LIGO team physicist Dr. Gabriela González speaks with Physics professors Drs. Richard Plotkin and Thomas White about the discovery of gravitational waves, lasers in space and the value of science communication.

Listen to the Discover Science Podcast

Our Team

Celebrating the end of the Fall 2019 Semester with a group ice skating trip!

From left: Dr Mathew Oliver (Post Doc), Jacob Molina (UG) , Wataru Hayashi (UG), Thomas White, Emily Chau (UG), Ryan Davis (Grad) 

Thomas White

Assistant Professor

Cameron Allen

Graduate Student

Alex Angermeier

Graduate Student

Travis Griffin

Graduate Student

Jacob Molina

UG Student and McNair Scholar

Tyreis Gatson

Undergraduate Student

Leonardo Rodriguez

Undergraduate Student


If you are interested in joining the group please reach out. Research and collaboration opportunities are often available

Previous Group Members

Dr Matthew Oliver (Postdoc)             Central Laser Facility, UK 

Garrett Van Mourik (Undergraduate)              Raytheon 

Emily Chau (Undergraduate)             Revolution Prep 

Wataru Hayashi (Undergraduate)             University of Wisconsin-Madison (Grad. School)