During the 1960s, Georgia Tech became well-known for its innovative experimental systems in atomic collisions. These experiments were initiated by Earl W. McDaniel of the Engineering Experiment Station.
When atoms, molecules, ions, and electrons collide at relatively high energies, electrons can be transferred from one particle to another, removed to make ions, or excited to eventually result in the emission of light. Very low-energy collisions between such species result in chemical changes and the combination of the colliding species.
Among notable projects in atomic collisions was the development of the first drift tube mass spectrometer to study low-energy chemical reactions with defined species. McDaniel's data on low-energy chemical reaction processes furthered the understanding of atmospheric chemistry, particularly the creation and destruction of ozone.
Another highlight was the first series of experiments in the United States to study collisions between beams of electrons and ions. The program later added a theoretical component to provide prediction and a fundamental understanding of atomic collisions.
Much of the early work at Georgia Tech provided data for support of the controlled thermonuclear reactor at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. High-energy beam studies performed by David Martin and Ed Thomas of the School of Physics fostered the development of neutral beam injectors to heat and fuel such reactors.
Electron-ion collision experiments by John Hooper of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and theoretical predictions by Ray Flannery of the School of Physics, helped provide an understanding of the cooling processes in such devices. Also, Flannery's theoretical calculations were used to model atmospheres of the sun and other stars.