Plasma Physics: An Introduction (Hardback) book cover

Plasma Physics

An Introduction

By Richard Fitzpatrick

© 2014 – CRC Press

293 pages | 36 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2014-08-01
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Encompasses the Lectured Works of a Renowned Expert in the Field

Plasma Physics: An Introduction is based on a series of university course lectures by a leading name in the field, and thoroughly covers the physics of the fourth state of matter. This book looks at non-relativistic, fully ionized, nondegenerate, quasi-neutral, and weakly coupled plasma. Intended for the student market, the text provides a concise and cohesive introduction to plasma physics theory, and offers a solid foundation for students wishing to take higher level courses in plasma physics.

Mathematically Rigorous, but Driven by Physics

This work contains over 80 exercises—carefully selected for their pedagogical value—with fully worked out solutions available in a separate solutions manual for professors. The author provides an in-depth discussion of the various fluid theories typically used in plasma physics. The material presents a number of applications, and works through specific topics including basic plasma parameters, the theory of charged particle motion in inhomogeneous electromagnetic fields, plasma fluid theory, electromagnetic waves in cold plasmas, electromagnetic wave propagation through inhomogeneous plasmas, magnetohydrodynamical fluid theory, and kinetic theory.

  • Discusses fluid theory illustrated by the investigation of Langmuir sheaths
  • Explores charged particle motion illustrated by the investigation of charged particle trapping in the earth’s magnetosphere
  • Examines the WKB theory illustrated by the investigation of radio wave propagation in the earth’s ionosphere
  • Studies the MHD theory illustrated by the investigation of solar wind, dynamo theory, magnetic reconnection, and MHD shocks

Plasma Physics: An Introduction addresses applied areas and advanced topics in the study of plasma physics, and specifically demonstrates the behavior of ionized gas.


"[This] book is a textbook treating plasma physics in its breadth, on an introductory level, however focusing on the by far most common form of plasma, which is the ‘fully ionised, non-relativistic, non-degenerate, quasi-neutral and weakly coupled plasma’…The present book is intended to accompany a graduate-level course on plasma physics, giving appropriate end-of-chapter problems (with a solutions manual available for teachers)… The text is nicely structured into short sections, treating the topic with full mathematical rigour and with references to scientific publications. It assumes an understanding of classical mechanics, electrodynamics, waves and oscillations, integral and differential calculus, vector fields, complex analysis, and Fourier and Laplace transforms.

The overall text is rather concise (290 pages with 36 black-and-white illustrations) and the topics are well chosen for such a brief introduction…the book deserves a recommendation as a companion for an introductory course in the subject."

—Manuel Vogel, GSI Darmstadt, in Contemporary Physics (Vol. 57, No. 4)

"In recent years, graduate and advanced undergraduate students with a suitable background in classical mechanics and electromagnetic theory have had the luxury of choosing between several very good textbooks that present the core principles of plasma physics. In that crowded field, Richard Fitzpatrick’s Plasma Physics: An Introduction distinguishes itself by its excellence. For those of us who have admired Fitzpatrick for his seminal contributions to the subject of magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) instabilities in fusion plasmas, his book is as much a source of pleasure as his papers are for their clarity and rigor. … the book has some unique features that make it especially attractive to both students and researchers. Examples include systematic and readable accounts of the Braginskii equations and the Chapman–Enskog method for weakly collisional plasmas. Nice physical explanations for the transport effects that emerge from the baroque complexity of orderings and expansions will help students see the forest for the trees. … an excellent and compact textbook—complete with problem sets and references—that has earned a permanent place on my bookshelf. Thanks to the several useful and well-presented topics, I would expect the book to endure as a standard text in colleges and universities all over the world."

Physics Today, July 2015

"Certainly we are not short of introductory textbooks for plasma physics, but I endorse this new one since it stands out for a couple of good reasons. First, this book provides broad background materials without targeting one particular area of applications of plasma physics. This is not the case for most of the available plasma physics books on the market. … writing such a book is certainly not an easy task as most authors are brought up to their status by practicing one particular application.

Second, the book goes into fine details of the step-by-step derivations, which is very valuable for students wanting to work through the process. … Finally, it contains a rich set of real-world examples for applications of introductory plasma physics. A good example of such is Van Allen radiation belts mentioned in Chapter 2: Charged Particle Motion. It is just amazing to see how much physics insights we can gain about these complicated space plasma physics phenomena through simple charged particle motions, which are typically described abstractly in other textbooks."

Hantao Ji, Professor of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University

"One of the most confusing features of plasma physics is the wealth of different levels of description that can be used in different circumstances. … This book provides an excellent treatment of these different starting points for the description of plasma phenomena, explaining in detail how they are related and the regimes in which each is applicable. A student who works through the book and problems in each chapter will have an excellent grounding for further work in the subject. More experienced researchers will find that it provides interesting insights into the basics of the subject and is a valuable source of reference."

Alan Cairns, University of St Andrews, Fife, Scotland

"This introduction to plasma physics by Richard Fitzpatrick originates from many years of lecturing and it shows—in the most positive way! The selection of topics is appealing to anyone entering into high temperature plasma physics, be it astrophysics or fusion. The physics explanations are intuitive and give great insight and yet the mathematical treatment is rigorous where necessary. Definitely recommended for plasma physics students, but also the experienced researcher will find interesting aspects."

Hartmut Zohm, Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik, Garching, Germany

Table of Contents


What is Plasma?

Brief History of Plasma Physics

Fundamental Parameters

Plasma Frequency

Debye Shielding

Plasma Parameter


Magnetized Plasmas

Plasma Beta

DeBroglie Wavelength


Charged Particle Motion


Motion in Uniform Fields

Method of Averaging

Guiding Center Motion

Magnetic Drifts

Invariance of Magnetic Moment

Poincar´e Invariants

Adiabatic Invariants

Magnetic Mirrors

Van Allen Radiation Belts

Equatorial Ring Current

Second Adiabatic Invariant

Third Adiabatic Invariant

Motion in Oscillating Fields




Collision Operator

Two-Body Elastic Collisions

Boltzmann Collision Operator

Collisional Conservation Laws

Boltzmann H-Theorem

Two-Body Coulomb Collisions

Rutherford Scattering Cross-Section

Landau Collision Operator

Coulomb Logarithm

Rosenbluth Potentials

Collision Times


Plasma Fluid Theory


Moments of Distribution Function

Moments of Collision Operator

Moments of Kinetic Equation

Fluid Equations

Entropy Production

Fluid Closure

Chapman-Enskog Closure

Normalization of Neutral Gas Equations

Braginskii Equations

Normalization of Braginskii Equations

Cold-Plasma Equations

MHD Equations

Drift Equations

Closure in Collisionless Magnetized Plasmas

Langmuir Sheaths


Waves in Cold Plasmas


Plane Waves in homogeneous Plasmas

Cold-Plasma Dielectric Permittivity

Cold-Plasma Dispersion Relation

Wave Polarization

Cutoff and Resonance

Waves in Unmagnetized Plasmas

Low-Frequency Wave Propagation

Parallel Wave Propagation

Perpendicular Wave Propagation


Wave Propagation Through Inhomogeneous Plasmas


WKB Solutions



Resonant Layers

Collisional Damping

Pulse Propagation

Ray Tracing

Ionospheric Radio Wave Propagation


Magnetohydrodynamic Fluids


Magnetic Pressure

Flux Freezing

MHD Waves

Solar Wind

Parker Model of Solar Wind

Interplanetary Magnetic Field

Mass and Angular Momentum Loss

MHD Dynamo Theory

Homopolar Disk Dynamo

Slow and Fast Dynamos

Cowling Anti-Dynamo Theorem

Ponomarenko Dynamo

Magnetic Reconnection

Linear Tearing Mode Theory

Nonlinear Tearing Mode Theory

Fast Magnetic Reconnection

MHD Shocks

Parallel MHD Shocks

Perpendicular MHD Shocks

Oblique MHD Shocks


Waves in Warm Plasmas


Landau Damping

Physics of Landau Damping

Plasma Dispersion Function

Ion Acoustic Waves

Waves in Magnetized Plasmas

Parallel Wave Propagation

Perpendicular Wave Propagation

Electrostatic Waves

Velocity-Space Instabilities

Counter-Propagating Beam Instability

Current-Driven Ion Acoustic Instability

Harris Instability




About the Author

Richard Fitzpatrick is a Professor of Physics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he has been a faculty member since 1994. He is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, a fellow of the American Physical Society, and the author of Maxwell’s Equations and the Principles of Electromagnetism (2008), An Introduction to Celestial Mechanics (2012), and Oscillations and Waves: An Introduction (2013). He earned a Master’s degree in physics from the University of Cambridge and a DPhil in astronomy from the University of Sussex.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SCIENCE / Astrophysics & Space Science
SCIENCE / Physics