Studying Plasma Physics


Plasma Physics like many other advance Physics courses is not a part of NET examination course contents designed by UGC but still it is an integral subject of curricula in many universities for M.Sc. courses. Under such circumstances, students who have become more career conscious in short terms always question the relevance to study such subjects in general and plasma physics in particular. Plasma physics being an advance physics course with more fundamental conceptual and mathematical flavour and having no direct relevance to students, finds less attraction among the students as well as course planners in the Indian universities.

Plasma physics course, however, is an integral part of curricula in most of world leading universities in American and Europe. Plasma physics will add to the knowledge of students and prepare them for future higher studies in the plasma physics and related research fields. Plasma is generally known as the fourth state of matter, is a collection of freely moving charged particles (mainly electrons and ions) along with neutral particles exhibiting properties like: collective phenomena (said to have its own mind), shielding, waves, nonlinear effects, dominate the behaviour of the system. Plasma physics is basically the study of charged particles and fluids interacting with self-consistent electric and magnetic fields giving rise many industrial applications. Plasmaphysicists study how plasma behaves. Their research provides data that leads to new answers to old problems.For the last few decades, the understanding and use of plasma is entering a Golden Age with profound new insights into the behavior of solar and stellar phenomenon, exciting advances in fusion energy research and development, and the technological applications of plasmas which will play a leading role in 21st century science and research. The world students are growing into will greatly benefit from evolving plasma-related technologies and new discoveries in the basic behaviour of plasmas. 

Studying of Plasma physics leads to basic research discipline that has many different areas of application like: space and astrophysics, controlled fusion, accelerator physics and beam storage. In day-to-day applications also plasma has emerged an important tool and is being used in television, neon signs, fluorescent lights, material processing (deposition, cleaning and spraying), pollution control, medical applications etc. Stars, lightning, the Aurora, and solar flames are some of the natural examples to consist of plasma. Plasma physics in itself is a large field, a young field, and a challenging field where success in research will have enormous impact on, among other things, reaching a satisfactory long-term solution of the world's energy problems.Plasma physics is an important field of study for understanding the physics of the nuclear warhead. To help us understand the safety, reliability and performance of nuclear warheads, our physicists and scientists need to research the physics of those extreme temperatures and pressures found in the heart of a nuclear explosion – like conditions at the centre of the Sun. Experts are exploring the physics behind materials that are shocked and heated by picosecond and nanosecond high-powered lasers. The high temperatures, pressures and densities being achieve during experiments support research into the conditions relevant to inertial fusion energy, planetary and solar physics, high-energy particle acceleration and black holes.Notably,plasmaphysicists were among the first to start with and develop the new,thoughtfuland exciting science of chaos and nonlinear dynamics.Plasmaphysicists also have great contribution in thestudyof aerodynamics and turbulence, playing important role in safe air travel and other applications.Spin-off developments for the use plasma are finding exotic applications in various sectors like: material processing, sterilization of medical instruments, pollution control, plasma lights and televisions, purifying contaminated water and treating harmful wastes. Further, a clear understanding of plasma science is essential for fusion energy research which will help in developing a renewable, everlasting and non-polluting source of energy. 

India has also started its inquests with plasma physics long back. The Institute for Plasma Research (IPR), a premier institute specially setup to take research in Plasma science can trace its roots back to early 1970's when a coherent and interactive programme of theoretical and experimental studies in plasma physics with an orientation towards understanding space plasma phenomena was established at the Physical Research laboratory (PRL). At present, Institute for Plasma Research is an autonomous R & D organization under the authority of Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Government of India situated near west banks of river Sabarmati in Gujarat, India. The research activities in the institute are largely involved in theoretical and experimental studies in plasma science including basic plasma physics, magnetically confined hot plasmas and plasma technologies for industrial applications. The institute has set up two operational tokamaks (a machine for controlling thermonuclear fusion) - ADITYA and Steady State Tokamak (SST) – 1. 

Lastly, it can be said that plasma physics is an interdisciplinary field that includes thermodynamics, hydrodynamics, electromagnetism, and atomic physics and is one of the major reason to study Plasma Physics. The other reason is philosophical as scientists should perceive the world, understand the processes that had been taking place in our Universe, and, generally speaking, work on the frontiers of the known, in which knowledge of Plasma Physics will play a great role.With these words, I wish that students who are having the opportunity in the Physics master courses to study Plasma Physics should study this course with utmost sincerity just like other core courses though its contents are not a part of NET syllabus but its familiarization and understanding will always benefit you not only in understanding many latest scientific and technological discoveries but also open an exciting vista for your research career.

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