The Magnetorotational Instability (MRI) Experiment

The Magnetorotational Instability (MRI) Experiment is a small laboratory experiment located at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), in collaboration with Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University.

The goal of MRI Experiment is to investigate physics of MRI in liquid gallium. Click to learn more about the physics of MRI and to find out our publications and results.

The Magnetorotational Instability (MRI) Experiment at PPPL.


    • Our hydrodynamic results have been published in "Nature": "Hydrodynamic turbulence cannot transport angular momentum effectively in astrophysical disks", Nature 444, 343 (2006). (see paper from Nature website or its reprint, introduction by S. Balbus, news story at "" or "life, and the universe").

    • We have discovered a "Shercliff Layer Instability" when a sufficiently strong magnetic field is imposed on otherwise stable flows. The results have been published as a Physical Review Letter and below is a video of the observed instability at the mid plane measured by Ultrasonic Doppler Velocimetry.

    • We have published an introductory review article in "Physics Today": "Angular momentum transport in astrophysics and in the lab", Physics Today 66, 27 (2013). Here is the paper in the pdf format.

    • We have upgraded the apparatus by using electrically conducting axial boundaries to increase the saturation level of the MRI, in order to unambiguously detect the standard form of MRI in any real systems for the first time. We have successfully confirmed the effectiveness of conducting axial boundaries, both experimentally and numerically.

    • Currently, we have obtained a lot of new data in the MRI relevant regimes and are comparing with numerical predictions.

    • Separately, we have successfully demonstrated the standard MRI mechanism with a spring-mass analoque and the results have been published in Nature's Communications Physics journal in 2019.

The MRI Experiment is currently jointly supported by NSF, NASA, and DoE.

The experimental apparatus has been constructed, and here is a movie: "First spin" movie (11/10/04).
Subsequently, high-speed water experiments have been carried out, and here is a movie: water experiment using Laser Doppler Velocimetry (10/20/05).
Here is a movie of the observed instability at the mid plane measured by Ultrasonic Doppler Velocimetry.
Here is a video of a scientist scraping liquid metal (gallium) from a scraper in the MRI lab at PPPL.


Erik Gilson working on the MRI experiment. (Elle Starkman/ PPPL)