National Academies Press: OpenBook
Suggested Citation:"GENERAL COMMENTS." National Research Council. 1995. Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4936.
Suggested Citation:"GENERAL COMMENTS." National Research Council. 1995. Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4936.

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EDUCATION IN PLASMA SCIENCE 178 physics PhDs produced each year (approximately 1,260 in 1991).… There is no way that hiring in industrial settings will make up the difference completely."6 The fusion program is responsible for a large number of prospective plasma PhD graduates. Of the seven schools that reported that they expected to award at least 20 PhDs in plasma physics over the next five years, five have strong fusion programs, including the top four in expected graduates. These seven schools account for 57% of the total expected PhDs. Of the 40 departments that responded to the questionnaire, 22 were physics departments. Others included space or astrophysics under various titles, applied physics, and several engineering departments. The number of "required" credit hours of course work for a plasma physics PhD averages 12.5 for the schools indicating a requirement; many recommend, but do not require, specific courses. EDUCATING NON-PLASMA STUDENTS IN PLASMA PHYSICS Of the 40 departments that responded to the questionnaire, 25 reported that they still have a plasma program. All 25 of these also offer courses for non- plasma science students. Usually this is a one- or two-semester course in plasma physics. Other courses offered include fusion, plasma transport, kinetic theory, and various space-related topics. The number of students taking these courses ranges from 1–2 to 20, with the usual number being 5 to 10. The bulk of these students are from physics or and engineering discipline. GENERAL COMMENTS Although degree production in plasma physics appears reasonably good, based on the number of expected PhDs, there are signs of erosion. Only 63% of the responding departments offer a major or a formal program in plasma physics, with 13 departments indicating they expected to award no doctorates in plasma physics in the next five years, though they had awarded a total of 27 during 1987–1991. The following comments are typical of those provided in response to the question, If you no longer have a program to award a doctorate in plasma physics, why did the program end? • "Lack of interest on the part of students.… Our one professor retired." • "Lack of interest and lack of appropriate faculty." • ''For many years I did have a research program and funding,… and a number of PhD students did their theses in my lab. This research is no longer funded, and there is no one in the department now doing plasma work." 6APS News, Vol. 2, No. 2, Feb. 1993, p. 10.

EDUCATION IN PLASMA SCIENCE 179 • "Lack of faculty interest and student demand." • "Plasma physicists left or retired; research interests in our department and university changed." As we consider arguments for strengthening basic plasma sciences in universities, the following comment from one of the respondents offers some suggestions: Students are trained in fundamental and advanced plasma physics, whose these are in such diverse topics as accelerator physics, solar physics, magnetospheric physics, and ionospheric physics. These are areas which are still well-funded by NSF and NASA.… A degree in "pure plasma physics" is not advantageous to students these days, although the training in plasma physics of students who receive their degrees in these other areas is practically indistinguishable from the training of a student who elsewhere might get a degree in plasma physics, per se. For example, we require competence … in electromagnetic theory, classical mechanics, and nonlinear dynamics, quantum mechanics, kinetic theory, and fluid mechanics, as well as in the usual plasma physics topics. Plasma physics is a foundation for many areas of physics. A similar, but broader point was made recently by Donald Langenberg, president of the American Physical Society:7 I'm afraid that we have managed to convince some of our most able young students that the only thing worth doing if you're a physicist is working at Fermilab, CERN, or in a university physics department. And if you don't, you're a failure in life. It just isn't so. There are few educational and training environments that better fit a young person for a very broad array of activities than physics. The key is not to cut back on the number of physicists, but to become much more flexible in our thinking about what physicists do. The panel believes that plasma theory would be useful to many areas of physics and has three specific suggestions: (1) There is a need for short books or early chapters in larger books that would develop "plasma literacy" for non- plasma scientists. Many graduate students would be prepared to invest time to develop a basic level of plasma knowledge, but would do so only if less than a full course were available. (2) There is a need for senior-level, undergraduate texts on plasma science. (3) For more in-depth development, texts are needed that focus on disciplines. Astrophysics serves as an illustrative example. The standard graduate curriculum in astrophysics contains graduate physics courses, such as quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, statistical mechanics, and classical mechanics. There also are standard astrophysics courses, such as stellar structure and evolution, 7APS News, Vol. 2, No. 2, Feb. 1993, p. 7.

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Plasma science is the study of ionized states of matter. This book discusses the field's potential contributions to society and recommends actions that would optimize those contributions. It includes an assessment of the field's scientific and technological status as well as a discussion of broad themes such as fundamental plasma experiments, theoretical and computational plasma research, and plasma science education.

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