NPRE 421 – Plasma and Fusion Science

Course Description

Physics of plasmas, including particle, fluid, and kinetic descriptions, with applications to controlled thermonuclear fusion reactors, problems in fusion engineering, and astrophysics.


Dr. Davide Curreli,
Office Phone Number: (217) 300-1787
104 South Wright Street, Urbana IL 61801

Office Hours

Immediately after class or by appointment by email to the instructor



  • For engineering or physical science majors with junior standing


  • 1/3, Homework  (weighted over the semester)
  • 1/3, Midterm
  • 1/3, Final


  1. Lecture notes
  2. Francis F. Chen, Introduction to Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion. Springer; 3rd Ed., 2016
  3. Jeffrey P. Freidberg, Plasma Physics and Fusion Energy, 2007

Additional Resources

  1. Francis F. Chen, An Indispensable Truth. How Fusion Power Can Save the Planet. Springer, 2011
  2. Lyman Spitzer Jr., Physics of Fully Ionized Gases, 2nd Revised Edition, Dover Publications, 1962
  3. John Wesson, Tokamaks, Oxford Univ. Press, USA, 4th edition, 2011
  4. Mitsuru Kikuchi, Karl Lackner, and Minh Quang Tran, Fusion Physics, IAEA, Vienna 2012
  5. Jeffrey P. Freidberg, Plasma physics and fusion energy (2007) [online available UIUC library]
  6. Leslie C. Woods, Theory of Tokamak Transport, Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, 2006
  7. Jeffrey P. Freidberg, Ideal MHD, Cambridge University Press, 2014 (updated version of 1987 Ed.)
  8. Richard Fitzpatrick, Plasma Physics An Introduction, CRC Press, 2015
  9. Peter C. Stangeby, The Plasma Boundary of Magnetic Fusion Devices, Taylor & Francis, 2000
  10. Dwight Nicholson, Introduction to Plasma Theory, John Wiley & Sons, 1983
  11. K. Nishikawa, M. Wakatani, Plasma Physics, 3rd Edition, Springer
  12. Richard D. Hazeltine, Francois L. Waelbroeck, The framework of plasma physics, Perseus Book

Other Resources

  • DOE 2009 Scientific Grand Challenges – Fusion Energy Sciences and The Role of Computing at the Extreme Scale (Report PDF 9.7 Mb)
  • DOE 2015 Workshop on Integrated Simulations for Magnetic Fusion Energy Sciences (Report PDF 23.3 Mb; USBPO page; Whitepapers)
  • Whitehouse Executive Order July 29, 2015 — Creating a National Strategic Computing Initiative (link)
  • DOE 2016 DOE Office of Science Exascale Requirements Reviews: Target 2020-2025 (link)
  • USBPO Website (link)

Course Material (Repository)


  1. Introduction [week 1]
    • Course info, resources, exam & homework policy
    • An introduction to plasma and fusion science
  2. Basic Plasma Concepts [week 2,3]
    • Phenomenological Gas Laws
    • Kinetic Theory of Gases
      • Pressure
      • Temperature
      • Average kinetic energy
      • Theorem of Equipartition of Energy
      • Specific Heats
    • Particle Distribution Function
      • Entropy of a classical ensemble
      • Most probable distribution of classical particles
      • Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution
        • Distribution of velocity vector
        • Distribution of speed
        • Distribution of energy
        • (Math parenthesis: Table of Gaussian Integrals)
      • Typical speeds
        • Most probable speed
        • Mean speed
        • Root-mean-square speed
    • A Primer to the Kinetic Theory of Plasmas
      • Meaning of f(v,r,t)
      • Intro to the Boltzmann Kinetic Equation
    • Gas-Plasma Phase Transition
      • Thermal ionization (Saha)
      • Collisional-radiative balance
      • Conditions of full ionization
      • Debye Screening
      • Plasma Parameter
      • Definition of Plasma
      • Plasma Frequency
  3. Single Particle Motion – Guiding Center Theory
    • Uniform Fields
    • Non-uniform B-fields
    • Non-uniform E-fields
    • Oscillating Fields
    • Ponderomotive Force
    • Consequences of drifts in toroidal systems
    • Poincare Invariants
  4. Plasmas as Fluids
    • Fluid equations
    • Collisions
    • Fluid drifts
  5. Diffusion and Resistivity
    • Ionization and Deionization
    • Classical Diffusion Theory
    • Ambipolarity
    • Diffusion in B-fields
  6. MHD Magnetohydrodynamics
    • Single-fluid MHD model
    • MHD equilibrium
    • MHD in 1D: θ-pinch, z-pinch, screw-pinch
    • Resistive MHD
  7. Kinetic Theory
    • Meaning of f(v,r,t)
    • Moments of the distribution
    • Boltzmann Kinetic Equation
    • Moments of the BKE
    • Landau Damping
  8. Fusion Power
    • Energy Levels of Light Nuclei
    • Energetics of Fusion Reactions
    • Fusion Cross Section
    • Fusion Reaction Rate
    • Fusion Power Balance
    • Fusion Experiments


Homework assignments will appear on Compass 2g and an email announcement will be sent at every new upload.