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Grad schools for Plasma Physics, specifically Fusion

  1. Jul 9, 2009 #1
    Hello All

    I've got two years left in my Physics undergrad degree at a university in Ontario, Canada. My ultimate career goal is to do research in fusion energy, and I've just started looking into what steps I should take to get there, starting with grad school. Naturally, I have some questions:

    First of all, aside from plasma physics, what are some other areas that one might study that directly relate to fusion? I ask this because in Canada, the choices for good experimental plasma physics seem to be limited to U. Montreal and U. Saskatchewan. The former is a French-speaking university, so for me that only leaves one choice. Therefore, it would be nice to know what other potential areas might feed into fusion should I want some Canadian alternatives.

    That said, I think my first choice would be somewhere in the US, simply because of the greater opportunities. I started making a list of schools that offer graduate programs in plasma physics... and it's pretty big! So what are some of the better-known schools that do plasma physics in general and fusion research in particular? I'm a hands-on guy, so my preference would be an experimental focus.

    Finally, I'd really like to get some research experience before the end of my undergrad. Canada offers some great internship bursaries, but can anyone think of some labs that do plasma/fusion research that accept might accept international students?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 9, 2009 #2
    I currently work for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, US. I am currently an undergrad physics and astronomy double major at the University of Maryland. I do solar plasma physics research on the STEREO spacecraft. One of the scientists I work for is a professor at Maryland. UMD's plasma physics department is top notch. I think last I checked it was in the top 5 of the nation. I'm pretty certain that it is the highest ranked physical science UMD offers, so definitely look into the University of Maryland. Half of the STEREO team I work for is out of UMD and NASA Goddard, another significantly large portion is from the University of Minnesota. I don't know how well they rank nationally, but I know they wrote the majority of our analytical software and their plasma physics scientists are on the forefront of our research. Hope this helps.
  4. Jul 10, 2009 #3


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    Depending on what caliber of schools you're looking at, you might consider the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. Obviously they do plasma physics research but I'm not that familiar with the details, so have a look at their website if you're interested. (I also know someone who'll be starting a graduate program there in the fall, so send me a PM in a year if you want a contact :wink:)
  5. Jul 14, 2009 #4
    As far as ways to work on fusion, there are a few options. Definitely plasma physics seems to be the core area for work on fusion energy. However, there is definitely research which also focuses on reactor design and other aspects, such as nuclear fusion technology, (for example, in my department at the University of Wisconsin - Madison). (Department of Engineering Physics.)

    In plasma physics research relevant to fusion, people tend to focus on magnetic fusion (e.g., tokamaks) or laser fusion (e.g., the national ignition facility). Other people work on plasma physics in a more general scientific context, for example, studying things like the solar corona or the earth's magnetosphere. So when you are looking at physics programs you might want to be sure to check if the faculty work on fusion energy or more just general fusion science.

    As far as programs go, I wish somebody with a bit more experience would comment here, but I will go ahead and chip in my two cents. So far, people have mentioned Princeton and Maryland, which are both really good programs with great research. Some other really good programs are Columbia Applied Physics, MIT Physics and Nuclear Engineering, and University of Texas also has a well established plasma physics program. These are all programs that are ranked in/around the top 10 in U.S. News graduate rankings of plasma physics. But if you look at their websites, you can tell they are good partly because there are just lots of faculty working on plasma research.

    I am actually starting in the graduate program at University of Wisconsin - Madison this Fall. At the University of Wisconsin there are three departments who work on plasma and fusion research -- Physics, Electrical Engineering, and the Department of Engineering Physics. Altogether there are around 20 faculty working in this area, and there are at least 3 major experimental devices, roughly one in each department. The electrical engineering department has the HSX, a type of advanced plasma confinement device, for example. Our University probably has the largest amount of plasma focused faculty in the U.S., so there are a ton of research opportunities. It's an exciting place to be for working on fusion research. Feel free to ask any more questions.
  6. Jul 17, 2009 #5
    Just to throw my thoughts in, last summer I worked in an experimental plasma physics lab at the University of Iowa. Last I checked, we were top 10 in plasma physics.
  7. Jul 17, 2009 #6
  8. Jul 19, 2009 #7
    Auburn physics is heavy into plasma. I know there's some people there working on EITER. I'm on my way back there to do a science outreach program. I think they still have a free on-line application.
  9. Jul 19, 2009 #8
    I came here to post the University of Iowa's program as well. My friend is in Princeton's plasma physics group, and I think it is the top program, which was already mentioned. It is a separate group I think from the regular physics department.
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