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Module description

From the departamental UG handbook:

PX358 Plasma Physics


Lecturer: Valery Nakariakov

Weighting: 7.5 CATS

This module introduces the key equations which describe the behaviour of plasmas. It will examine some predictions of this system of equations, and compare them with observations of natural plasmas (in situ measurements of solar system plasmas, and remote observations of astrophysical plasmas) and laboratory plasma experiments.

At the end of the module, you should

  • Be able to solve problems in single particle dynamics including: those relating to guiding center motion and adiabatic invariants
  • Be familiar with the key equations and approximations in MHD. You should be able to find the dispersion relations for wave-like solutions of the linearized equations.
  • Understand the nature of bulk fluid-instabilities with application to confinement devices and in astrophysical plasmas.
  • Be familiar with the distribution function and micro-instabilities


  1. Single particle dynamics, guiding centre motion and adiabatic invariants, (examples, mirror machines, Van Allen belts).
  2. The plasma approximation.
  3. The hierarchy of plasma equations, from Boltzmann/Vlasov to MHD.
  4. Consistency of particle motion with MHD, "moving field lines", (examples, MHD generators, the solar wind)
  5. MHD and fluid waves and macroinstabilities (examples, instability in confinement devices, waves in the solar wind)
  6. Vlasov equation; revision of the meaning of the distribution function, microinstabilities.

Commitment: 15 lectures
The problem sheets include three types of questions: i) Problems which review and rework the material presented in lectures, ii) Problems which develop techniques introduced in lectures (eg exercises in obtaining dispersion relations and wave properties) and iii) Problems of general physical interest, that can be elegantly treated with knowledge gained from lectures to provide additional student motivation.

Assessment: 1.5 hour examination.

Recommended Text: N.A. Krall and A.W. Trivelpiece, Principles of Plasma Physics, San Fransisco Press/McGraw Hill

Leads from: PX263 Electromagnetic Theory and Optics (or its predecessor) and PX302 Electromagnetic Waves

Leads to: PX421 Relativity and Electrodynamics, PX420 Solar Magnetohydrodynamics, PX416 High Energy Astrophysics