Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Plasma and Space Physics
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years
Successful Completion of Year 3 of the MPhys Scheme
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 20 lectures


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Exam 3 Hours   end of semester examination  100%

Learning Outcomes

After taking this module students should be able to:

  • describe the fundamental characteristics of plasmas.
  • discuss the behaviour of plasmas from the standpoints of both individual particles and bulk fluid-like properties.
  • explain the properties of certain types of waves and instabilities in plasmas.

Brief description

The core of the course will cover the essentials of plasma physics, including the nature of a plasma, motion of single charged particles in a magnetic field, magnetohydrodynamics, waves in plasma, and instabilities. The theory will be illustrated by examples from interplanetary space and the magnetosphere.


Occurrence of plasmas, temperature of a plasma, Debye shielding, plasma oscillations.

Motion of a single charged particle in
(a) a homogenous magnetic field; gyro-radius and frequency.
(b) a converging magnetic field; magnetic mirror.
(c) an inhomogenous magnetic field; drift motion.
(d) a magnetic field with a perpendicular electric field.

Magnetohydrodynamics: Maxwell's equations applied to a plasma; diffusion time of magnetic field in a plasma; "frozen-in" fields, magnetic Reynold's number.

Waves in a plasma: electron plasma waves, ion-acoustic waves, MHD waves, shear Alfven waves, fast-mode (compressional) waves.

Types of instability, two-stream instability (simple "doppler-shift" treatment), Rayleigh-Taylor and Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities (qualitative treatment).


This module is at CQFW Level 7