The physics of ionized gases is a relatively new science. Not until the development of the electrical industry were controlled experiments on ionized gases possible, and so plasma physics is only about 100 years old. The early part of this century saw some pioneering studies of gas discharges and radio propagation in the ionosphere. However, the real impetus came with the initiation of the controlled thermonuclear reaction programs in the 1950s and with the discoveries of the Van Allen belts and the solar wind in the 1960s. Studies in these areas showed that plasma behavior is much more complex than had been anticipated.

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