The Plasma Physics Program was first offered at Princeton University in 1959 and two years later was incorporated into the Department of Astrophysical Sciences. In an environment that, over the past few decades, has seen enormous changes in the fields of plasma physics and controlled fusion, the Program has consistently focused on fundamentals in physics and mathematics and on intense exposure to contemporary experimental and theoretical research in plasma physics.
With 269 graduates since 1959, the Program in Plasma Physics has provided many of today's leaders in the field of plasma physics. Students in the program, presently 43, engage in active research, attend conferences, and publish their findings in scientific journals. Graduates of the program find employment in research in industry, in national laboratories, and in academia.
Academics & Research
The faculty responsible for the teaching program hold positions within the Department of Astrophysical Sciences. Recognizable on the list of faculty are many names associated with classic textbooks or research papers in the field of plasma physics. Students pursue research with the teaching faculty, with associated faculty in other departments, or with any of the nearly one hundred scientists at PPPL. The Program in Plasma Physics emphasizes both basic physics and applications. There are opportunities for research projects in the physics of the very hot plasmas necessary for controlled fusion, as well as for projects in solar, magnetospheric and ionospheric physics, plasma processing, plasma devices, nonneutral plasmas, lasers, materials research, and in other emerging areas of plasma physics. With the field of fusion energy entering an exciting phase of burning plasma and technological implementation, increasing attention is paid to the practical engineering issues that will allow fusion reactors to become economically competitive.
Graduate students entering the Plasma Physics Program at Princeton spend the first two years in classroom study, acquiring a foundation in the many disciplines that make up plasma physics: classical and quantum mechanics, electricity and magnetism, fluid dynamics, hydrodynamics, atomic physics, applied mathematics, statistical mechanics, and kinetic theory. Courses offered in the Program are taught by the members of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory's research staff who also comprise the plasma physics faculty. The curriculum is supplemented by courses offered in other departments of the University and by a student-run seminar series in which PPPL physicists share their expertise and graduate students present their research.
In addition to formal class work, first- and second-year graduate students work directly with the research staff, have full access to Laboratory and computer facilities, and learn firsthand the job of a research physicist. First-year students typically assist in experimental research areas, and second-year students usually undertake a theoretical research project. There are two exams that must be passed as a graduate student in the Program, the Physics Department Preliminary Exam, usually in the first year, and the Program's General Examination, usually in the second year. After passing the General Exam, students concentrate on the research and writing of a doctoral thesis.