NI scientists have been awarded £3.2m for a discipline which may help provide for the world's post-oil power needs.
Plasma reaches millions of degrees in a reactor
The funding for research at Queen's University Belfast will address the need for more plasma physicists.
Plasma, an ionised gas, is increasingly used in industry and is found in everything from stars like the Sun to everyday items like fluorescent lights.
Plasma is used to produce nuclear power in fusion reactors. Queen's now hopes to build up its expertise in the field.
QUB academic Professor Bill Graham said: "A plasma is an ionised gas. The atoms and molecules making up normal material are broken down into positively charged ions and negatively charged electrons.
"This changes completely the way they behave physically and chemically so that plasmas are the 'fourth state of matter', along with gases, liquids and solids.
"In fact 99% of the observable universe is in the plasma state."
Queen's Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Gregson said: "This award is proof that Queen's is continuing to lead the way in the fields of science and innovation.
"In a research landscape which is consistently changing, work such as that undertaken by Professor Graham and Professor Ciaran Lewis, is essential in underpinning our economy and in ensuring a vital supply of academics to lead future world-class research in crucially important areas."