Plasma Nonlinear and Stochastic Dynamics


This research area involves investigating the physics of nonlinear and stochastic interactions in plasmas, which also have wide applications in allied fields such as nonlinear optics, fluid dynamics, and space physics.


Professor Peter Robinson

Research Location

School of Physics

Program Type



When waves reach large amplitudes in plasma, they modify the plasma properties. This can lead to their self-focusing into intense soliton-like structures that can collapse to short scales, generating secondary waves and accelerating fast particles. When pumped by an energy source such as a radar or laser, a turbulent state of such solitons can develop, generating a spectrum of electromagnetic wave emission. We have developed the first computer code able to study large-scale nonlinear electromagnetic plasma turbulence, and aim to apply it to obtain the first predictions of many phenomena in this area.

In turbulent plasmas, waves often scatter strongly as they propagate, with the result that they random-walk out of their source region. This leads to random wave growth, extended emission, frequency shifts, and depolarization of the radiation, with important observational consequences in applications to laboratory and space plasmas. We are currently generalizing the theory of such stochastic wave growth to encompass all these effects simultaneously.

Numerous areas exist for PhD, MSc, or Honors projects, which could include theoretical, computational, and experimental components in cooperation with our international and local collaborators. In particular, we have access to laboratory and spacecraft wave data against which to test theoretical and computational predictions. Spacecraft data includes wave measurements from STEREO on which Prof. Robinson and Prof. Cairns are Investigators.

Specific projects lie in areas including:

  1. Using large-scale computations, based on the Zakharov and nonlinear Schroedinger equations, to determine the statistical properties of nonlinear electromagnetic plasma turbulence, especially those involving the electromagnetic waves themselves, and their interactions with plasma inhomogeneities.
  2. Developing statistical soliton-gas theories of electromagnetic plasma turbulence.
  3. Developing a combined theory of scattering, stochastic growth, and depolarization, and applying it to understand the properties of solar radio bursts and other emissions.
  4. Predicting observational consequences of nonlinear plasma turbulence and other nonlinear and stochastic plasma phenomena, and testing these against laboratory and space data.

Additional Information

My approach is to formulate an overall project topic in close consultation with the prospective student, and to allow the approach and details to evolve with increasing student input as the candidature develops. Excellent facilities are available to carry out all aspects of the work, including access to computing resources and experimental data. Students should have a strong background in physics or a closely related field, with good mathematical skills. Good computational skills would also be an advantage. In addition, top-up scholarship funding may be available for students of University Medal standard, or equivalent. Travel support to present research results at national and international conferences is also available.

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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wave physics, plasma physics, computational physics, nonlinear dynamics, turbulence, electromagnetics, space physics, solitons, stochastic processes, wave-wave interactions, nonlinear Schroedinger equation, Zakharov equations, nonlinear waves, complex systems, theoretical physics, physics, Applied mathematics, self-organization

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 680

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