ECE 5174 Introduction to Plasma Science | ECE | Virginia Tech


Course Information


Underlying physical processes and basic computational techniques for laboratory, space, and technological plasma environments including single particle motion, fluid and kinetic theory of plasmas, plasma waves and instabilities, diffusion and resistivity, and nonlinear effects.

Why take this course?

In general, the linkage of plasmas to modern technology is becoming as ubiquitous as their existence in the universe. Plasma environments exist in space, the laboratory, and various technologies including semi-conductor processing, various biological applications, lasers, photonics, fusion energy, and propulsion systems. Natural plasmas in the near earth space environment also adversely impact modern technologies including navigation and communication systems, power systems, spacecraft, and transpolar aviation. This course provides students with the fundamental plasma principles for application to a wide range of applications from fundamental science in the laboratory and near earth space environment to their application to a plethora of modern technology. The course covers all important plasma phenomena including single particle motion, plasma waves and instabilities, diffusion, resistivity, conductivity, collisional processes, as well as a brief introduction to nonlinear effects. Both fluid and kinetic treatments of space plasmas will be provided as well as a brief introduction to computational techniques for plasmas. Such fundamental knowledge is critical to understanding the broad spectrum of issues in plasma science, engineering, and technology research.

Learning Objectives

  • Formulate the theory of plasma media with both fluid and kinetic treatments.
  • " Calculate the motion of single charged particles in various electric and magnetic field configurations.
  • " Categorize the propagation characteristics of plasma wave modes with and without a background magnetic field present.
  • " Calculate frequency and growth rate of basic plasma instabilities with fluid and kinetic treatments.
  • " Calculate diffusion, resistivity, and collisional effects in plasmas.
  • " Analyze basic nonlinear effects in plasmas including sheath formation, shocks, quasilinear diffusion, and parametric instabilities
  • " Use basic computational techniques to study plasma dynamics

Course Topics


Percentage of Course

Introduction: Concept of plasmas and modern applications 5%
Single particle motion and computational techniques 15%
The fluid treatment of plasmas 10%
Fluid treatment of waves in plasmas 15%
Collisions and diffusion in plasmas 5%
Fluid treatment of plasma instabilities 10%
The kinetic treatment of plasmas 15%
Kinetic treatment of waves and instabilities in plasmas 10%
Nonlinear behavior in plasmas and computational considerations 15%