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Plasma Traditions

ICTP hosted advanced workshop on the frontiers of plasma physics

Plasma Traditions

Padma Shukla, Roald Sagdeev and Robert Bingham at the Adriatico Guesthouse terrace

The International Advanced Workshop on the Frontiers of Plasma Physics was held at ICTP from the 5th to the 16th of July 2010. The two-week workshop continued an ICTP tradition that goes back to the very year the Centre was founded.

In 1964, ICTP hosted a plasma physics ‘exchange’ of sorts. The world was still in the aftermath of the Cold War, and a host of top Russian, European, American and some Japanese scientists were here, finding out about each other’s work. The international group of scientists spent close to six months together at ICTP and laid the foundations for the field of plasma physics for years to come. At that first meeting were Roald Sagdeev and Lennart Stenflo, now among the foremost world experts in plasma physics. Both gave talks at this year's meeting about the history of plasma physics at ICTP. The topic of ‘plasma astrophysics’ was born at the nascent plasma gathering in 1964, giving a big boost to the subject as well as the Centre, recalls Swadesh Mahajan of the University of Texas at Austin, US, who was one of the directors of the 2010 workshop.

While a plasma department did not manifest at ICTP for long, a regular plasma school and workshop became integral to the development of the field, especially for students and researchers from developing countries. The activities gave them a chance to meet leading plasma physicists, learn from them as students, and go on to become renowned scientists in their own countries.

“They saw their first sunlight here when it came to plasma physics. It played a fundamental role for developing countries,” says Mahajan.

This year's workshop emphasized teaching, going into reasonable detail on select topics. Two- to three-hour lectures were organized so that each lecturer could begin with the basics and advance into more complex theory. Afternoons were dedicated to free informal exchanges, but the topics were guided. These sessions had students interacting and debating with lecturers and with each other. Although no work groups were organized, there was interaction. Equal amounts of theory and experimental research were discussed, with lectures on what direction plasma physics research will take in the coming years as well as interesting new possible applications in laser technology, among other topics.

Wednesday 7 July saw a special celebration in honour of workshop co-director Padma Shukla’s 60th birthday. Shukla, of Ruhr University, Germany, has been involved with the plasma physics workshops and ICTP from the Centre's inception. His long-time friend, colleague, and workshop co-director Robert Bingham of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Didcot, U.K, gave “A Symposium on Variety of Plasmas, Honouring Professor Padma Kant Shukla on the Occasion of his 60th Birthday”.

Next year's plasma physics-related activity, titled "Joint ITER-IAEA-ICTP Advanced Workshop on Fusion and Plasma Physics", will take place between 3 and 14 October 2011.


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