The Master “Physics of Plasmas and Fusion” (PPF) is the only generalist Master in France which offers fundamental basis in plasma physics and whose objective is to train high level scientists and engineers, capable of invest in research programs on plasmas, whether natural or artificial, cold or hot, diluted or dense.
This Master offers students wide possibilities of choice and orientation among many themes of plasma physics, allowing them to build step by step their professional project throughout the academic year. It is common to various establishments including the Paris-Saclay University (UPSAy), the University Sorbonne Université (SU) and the Polytechnic Institute of Paris (IPP).
The academic year is structured in different parts summarized by the diagram below.
After fundamental lectures given to all students to introduce the plasma physics’ basic notions (common core), optional courses dealing with the different themes of the discipline are offered to them: natural plasmas’ physics (Space Plasmas and Astrophysics), process plasmas (so-called “industrial” plasmas), thermonuclear plasmas (magnetic or inertial fusion plasmas) or plasmas from laser-matter interactions, a more detailed description of which is given below.
All of these courses are introduced both theoretically and fundamentally, but also from the point of view of experimentation, numerical simulation and modeling. They allow students to acquire expertise in different multidisciplinary fields (plasma/health, plasma/environment, plasma/energy, plasma/space, …), but also to be introduced to the most current innovative technologies and major international and national projects such as the Tokamak ITER, the MegaJoule, Apollon or Petal lasers, or even present and future space missions (Parker Solar Probe / NASA, Solar Orbiter ESA / NASA, …).
These optional thematic lectures are followed by so-called “specialization” courses, which allow students to deepen their knowledge in a more specific way and in the perspective of their research internship of 5-6 months. This internship can be carried out in a research laboratory in France or abroad, in the academic environment or with an industrial partner. It completes the Master, which then opens onto a PhD (for the majority of students) or directly onto a job in the industry.
The four “thematics” or research fields of plasma physics are the following:
(i) Space and Astrophysical Plasmas
Since visible matter is made up of 99% plasma, the study of this state of matter is very important for the understanding of the phenomena which take place in our immediate (the Heliosphere) or distant (the Cosmos) environment.
Thus, the numerous physical processes observed make it possible to study the most fundamental and current aspects of physics. Plasmas are found under different extreme conditions, ranging from very dense media (core of stars, black holes environments, quasars, …) to very diluted ones (interplanetary, interstellar or intergalactic space, …). These different states of plasma are characterized by temperatures, densities and magnetizations extending over tens of magnitude orders; thereby they need the introduction of different spatio-temporal scales and the development of diversified and complementary theoretical approaches. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce most of these plasmas in the laboratory; they remain essential to understand physical phenomena such as energy conversion and propagation (magnetic reconnection, dissipation, turbulence, …), particle acceleration processes (cosmic rays, energetic beams, shock waves ,…) and generation of electromagnetic fields (dynamo effects, instabilities,…).
On the other hand, many applications are very important: plasma propulsion, space instrumentation, satellite navigation, communications with waves, ionospheric heating, atmospheric reentry, etc. Currently, the study of our Sun is growing with the launch in 2018 and 2020 of the two international space missions “Solar Orbiter (ESA / NASA)” and “Parker Solar Probe (NASA)” which will open up new horizons. In particular, in recent years, a new discipline has emerged, the Space Weather, which studies solar flares and tries to predict their impact on our modern societies increasingly dependent on electronic means.
(ii) Plasmas created by Lasers and Inertial Fusion
Plasmas can be created in the laboratory using powerful lasers focused on gaseous or solid targets. Depending on the physical and technical parameters of lasers and targets, a wide variety of plasmas can be created.
When using “long” laser pulses lasting several nanoseconds (~ 10-9s) and very high energy, the plasma can be strongly heated and compressed to an extreme state of temperature and density where energy production by thermonuclear fusion becomes possible. In this High Energy Density (HED) regime, research also focuses on various fundamental problems. For example, laboratory experiments are designed to model natural astrophysical phenomena occurring inside stars, planets, ejecta of supernovae where radiative shocks are observed and the origin of cosmic rays studied.
When “short” pulses lasting one femtosecond (~ 10-15s) are used, the Ultra-High Intensity Laser (UHI) regime, also known as the “relativistic regime”, can be achieved (the electrons reach relativistic speeds by oscillating in the electromagnetic field of the laser). This regime, which opens the way to particle acceleration and the production of X-ray beams, could be a new path towards the development of small particle accelerators. This physics has become accessible thanks to advances in laser technology, following the invention of the CPA technique (Chirped Pulse Amplification), awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018.
Locally, several laser installations are present in universities; they make it possible to develop experimental laser-plasma interaction programs at very high intensity and high energy density (in the LOA, LULI, CEA Saclay laboratories). Currently, the APOLLON multipetawatt laser is in its finalization phase and will provide unprecedented energy intensities, allowing access to new regimes where quantum electrodynamics and plasma physics coexist. Similar installations are expected to be completed in Europe soon, such as ELI lasers. These installations are complementary to most of the energy lasers existing in the world, such as the Laser MegaJoule in Bordeaux (LMJ) and the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in the United States.
The PPF Master provides students with concepts and tools that are essential for the study of plasmas created by laser, in close connection with research carried out in laboratories in the Paris region (LULI, LOA, LCPMR, INSP, CPHT, LPGP).
(iii) Magnetic Thermonuclear Fusion
In our increasingly energy-consuming and global warming societies, thermonuclear fusion by magnetic confinement is currently a subject of major interest, both scientifically and societally. In 2025, the Tokamak ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) will make it possible to study the first thermonuclear plasma maintained over long confinement times.
Associated to this international project, fundamental research on plasma fusion by magnetic confinement needs a whole panoply of theoretical models making it possible to describe the complexity of such plasmas of very high temperature such as:
– the MagnetoHydroDynamics (MHD) and the particle drift theory which are essential to understand the principle of a Tokamak (Russian acronym meaning “toroidal chamber with magnetic confinement”), and to control the confinement of a plasma;
– the kinetic theory, as well as the physics of wave-particle interactions and wave propagation, are modeling tools necessary to study the heating of plasmas up to temperatures of the order of hundreds of millions Kelvin degrees;
– the theory of instabilities which makes it possible to understand the turbulence and the heat transport in Tokamaks, in order to improve the confinement of the plasma;
This theoretical approach is combined with numerical simulation on massively parallel computers or, for reduced models, on more reasonable calculators. In parallel, in order to measure and characterize very hot plasmas suitable for fusion reactions, a wide variety of diagnostics have been developed for a deeper understanding of the control of a complex system such as ITER. They already enabled significant advances in the understanding of many phenomena at work in magnetic fusion plasmas, such as the transition between low and high confinement modes.
The Master PPF provides the fundamental bases to study the physical phenomena governing thermonuclear fusion by magnetic confinement, on the theoretical, numerical and experimental points of view, without neglecting the diagnostic methods and the more technological aspects.
(iv) Cold and Process Plasmas
Cold plasmas are weakly ionized gases which, unlike fusion plasmas, are in a state of thermodynamic imbalance. Composed on the one hand of energetic electrons and on the other hand of heavy species (ions, metastables and radiative species, free radicals, …) at low temperature but strongly excited and reactive, these plasmas have strongly non-linear physical and chemical properties, coupled and out of balance.
They are created by continuous, pulsed or alternating electromagnetic fields, applied to very different electrode and reactor geometries, in plasma-based media ranging from rare gases to liquids, passing through mixtures of complex molecules. We speak of inductively coupled plasmas, nanosecond discharges, jet plasmas, dielectric barrier discharges or even HF or microwave discharge plasmas. This variety offers perspectives for important fundamental studies, whether experimental or modeling: energy transfers and couplings, dynamics of ionization waves propagation, out of kinetics equilibrium, plasma-surface interactions, … Characteristic Space and temporal scales extend from the micron to several tens of centimeters and from the nanosecond to the second; they require highly resolved measurement techniques (emission spectroscopy, advanced laser diagnostics, electrical probes, …) andhigh-performance simulation models (fluid or particle models (Particle-In-Cell), of various sizes and geometries.
Beyond the fundamental approach, cold plasmas are also studied to resolve the major societal and scientific future challenges (environment, energy, space, health, …), by their integration and optimization in innovative industrial processes and applications. For example, cold plasma electric propulsion is the subject of numerous research and innovation studies (PEGASE / I2, Hall Effect Propellant, etc.) in order to meet the challenges posed by nano-space satellite missions, manned flight or exploratory robotics. Another large field of application is microelectronics (synthesis of components by deposition or plasma etching) and more generally the engineering of materials where plasmas are studied to functionalize, texturize or even clean surfaces.
In the context of climatic emergency and depletion of resources, energy and environmental applications are also of great interest, like the study of atmospheric reentry, plasma-assisted combustion, treatment of gaseous and liquid effluents, or reduction of CO2 emissions. Finally, cold plasmas offer very promising prospects in the field of life with the development of therapeutic devices with plasma jets for oncology, dermatology or decontamination. Very recently, plasma processes have also been studied in agriculture to enrich water with reactive species and improve agronomic growth.
The Master PPF covers all scientific fields relating to plasmas and ionized media. It allows to prepare to the professions of researcher, lecturer or engineer in the field of fundamental or applied research, within numerous university laboratories, Engineering Schools, public institutions such as the CNRS, the CEA, the ONERA, the CNES or even companies with a strong “Research and Development” component (Alcatel, Air Liquide, Thalès, EDF, IBM, PSA, Renault, Saint-Gobain, EADS, Safran, Snecma, …).
The natural follow-up is the preparation of a PhD thesis, within the framework of a contract financed by a Doctoral School of a higher education establishment, by public or private research organizations, or by CIFRE contracts with a company. Obtaining a doctorate allows, after a post-doctorate generally carried out abroad, to integrate higher education, as a lecturer, or research organizations and companies, as a researcher or Research and development engineer.