ECE 5174 Introduction to Space Plasmas | ECE | Virginia Tech


Course Information


Underlying physical processes in the space environment medium in terms of plasma physics and electrodynamics. Single particle motion, fluid and kinetic theory of plasmas, plasma waves and instabilities, diffusion and resistivity, and nonlinear effects.

Why take this course?

The near-earth space environment has profound effects on radio waves, electrical devices, power systems, satellites, space vehicles, as well as humans. As society becomes more dependent on technologies embedded in this environment, more understanding of physical properties and predictive capabilities in terms of 'space weather' will become crucial. This course in space plasmas provides the student with a description of near-earth space environment as a medium in terms of plasma physics and electrodynamics.


Graduate Standing

Major Measurable 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

1. Introduction: The concept and importance of plasmas in space science 5%
2. Single particle motion and computational techniques 15%
3. The fluid treatment of plasmas 10%
4. Fluid treatment of waves in plasmas 15%
5. Collisions and diffusion in plasmas 5%
6. Fluid treatment of plasma instabilities 10%
7. The kinetic treatment of plasmas 15%
8. Kinetic treatment of waves and instabilities in plasmas 10%
9. Nonlinear behavior in plasmas and computational considerations 15%