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Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications 10 Education in Plasma Science For plasma physics to make the contributions in the areas identified elsewhere in this report, there must be enough researchers and applied scientists knowledgeable in the plasma fields to enable those contributions to be made. To examine the demographics of the plasma physics field, data were obtained from the American Institute of Physics (AIP), the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council (NRC), and a survey of doctorate-granting universities. The data indicate how many scientists were educated at the doctoral level in plasma physics. These scientists are not all of those now working in the field. The survey information also indicates how many new doctoral-level researchers will be entering the job market in the next five years. These, along with the current practitioners, must meet the challenges for plasma physics identified in the rest of this report. DEGREE PRODUCTION AND EMPLOYMENT STATISTICS From 1965 to 1991, 1539 doctorates were awarded in plasma physics. The average annual production in the 1970s was 72, with an upsurge between 1970 and 1972, peaking at 93 PhDs in 1972. The average annual production in the 1980s was 55. The number dropped to 42 in 1990 and rose to 58 in 1991.1 1 National Science Foundation, Science and Engineering Doctorates: 1960–1991, NSF 93-301, Washington, D.C., 1993, Table 1.
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Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications Graduates in plasma physics have been primarily white male U.S. citizens: of the 1960–1991 total, nearly 97% were male and 74% were U.S. citizens. Of the 1976–1991 plasma physics doctorate recipients, 65% were white. In 1991–1992 there was a change in the nongender categories: plasma physics PhD recipients were 61% U.S. citizen and 53% white, but still 96% male. The AIP provided data on employment based on a sample estimate of approximately one-tenth of all plasma physicists who are members of the AIP.2 This information indicates that for PhD AIP members working full or part time in plasma physics in 1990, there is not one predominant category of employer. Four national laboratories, the university sector, and industry each account for about one-third of the positions: University or university-affiliated research institute 34% Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) 34% Industry 23% Government 8% Self-employed 1% Most employees of FFRDCs were at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). Plasma scientists associated with universities are often on the research staff of the university, not the teaching faculty: Research staff (e.g., research scientist) 47% Professor 33% Associate professor 6% Assistant professor 6% Other/unknown 8% Although the data do not indicate tenure-track versus non-tenure-track positions, the predominance of research staff positions suggests strongly that a large number of plasma physicists in university-associated positions are not on the tenure track. Similar data for other fields in 1990 are given in Table 10.1. In none of these fields do physicists appear as likely to be in a non-tenure-track position as in plasma physics. This point probably is not missed by graduate students selecting a field. 2 Information from AIP Statistics Division, included with letter from Jean M. Curtin, research associate, to John Ahearne, September 16, 1992.
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Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications TABLE 10.1 Employment Category in 1990 (percent of total) for University-affiliated Physicists in Selected Fields Nuclear Physics Condensed Matter Physics Atomic and Molecular Physics Elementary Particles and Fields Optics Research staff 17 21 21 20 27 Professor 56 46 48 59 40 Associate professor 11 15 16 10 15 Assistant professor 9 17 11 10 17 Other/unknown 7 1 4 1 2 Source: Information from AIP Statistics Division, included with letter from Jean M. Curtin, research associate, to John Ahearne, February 9, 1993. TABLE 10.2 Area of Employment in 1990 (percent of total) for Holders of PhDs in Selected Physics Fields. Nuclear Physics Condensed Matter Physics Atomic and Molecular Physics Elementary Particles and Fields Optics In field 29 45 28 40 58 Other physics 47 31 47 40 26 Engineering 7 10 9 8 6 Other/unknown 17 14 16 12 10 Source: Information from AIP Statistics Division, included with letter from Jean M. Curtin, research associate, to John Ahearne February 9, 1993. In 1990, about half of those who held a PhD in plasma physics were working primarily on plasmas; their subfields of employment were as follows:3 Plasma physics 51% Other physics 30% Engineering 12% Other/unknown 7% For comparison, Table 10.2 indicates areas of employment in 1990 for holders of PhDs in other physics fields. For all these degree fields, at least 75% of PhD 3 Information from AIP Statistics Division, included with letter from Jean M. Curtin, research associate, to John Ahearne, February 9, 1993.
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Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications recipients were in some field of physics. However, only for plasma and optics were at least one-half the doctorate holders working in the same field as their doctorate. Although many who were educated as plasma physicists have switched to other fields, crossover into plasma physics has also occurred. The AIP data indicate that many people working in plasma physics were educated in other fields. For those who indicated in 1990 that they were working full or part time in plasma physics, the predominant degree was as follows:4 Plasma physics 56% Other physics 27% Engineering 8% Mathematics and statistics 1% Unknown 8% ESTIMATE OF FUTURE SUPPLY OF PLASMA PHYSICISTS The NRC Doctorate Records Project identified 52 U.S. academic institutions that awarded at least one doctorate identified as in the field of plasma physics during the period from 1987 to 1991.5 These 52 institutions awarded a total of 298 doctorates in plasma physics during this period. The data do not indicate from which department the degree was awarded. Questionnaires were also sent to the chairs of physics departments (or other departments, if they had been identified as more appropriate). Responses were received from 40 departments, representing 38 institutions. The responding institutions produced 255 PhDs in 1987–1991 (86% of the total identified by the Doctorate Records Project). The departments estimated that during the next five years they would produce 332 to 340 PhDs in plasma physics—an increase of at least 11% over the previous five years. In the respondents' departments, in addition to 374 students in doctorate programs, there were 31 students in master's programs. Thus, if the previous supply of plasma physicists was enough to meet the needs of the field (implied by nearly one-half not working in plasma physics), unless there is a very large growth in demand the current estimated production rate should be more than adequate. It may be too high, which could be true of all physics, as indicated by the head of the AIP Education and Employment Statistics Division, Roman, Czujko: ''Results from AIP's most recent surveys indicate that the total number of projected vacancies in academia, government, and national laboratories combined is well under 50% of the total number of 4 See footnote 3. 5 Information included in letter from Lori Thurgood, research associate, NRC Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel, to John Ahearne, October 13, 1992.
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Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications 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." 6 APS News, Vol. 2, No. 2, Feb. 1993, p. 10.
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Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications "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, 7 APS News, Vol. 2, No. 2, Feb. 1993, p. 7.
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Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications stellar atmospheres and radiative transfer, interstellar medium, and galaxies and cosmology. At many universities, no courses in plasma physics are taught in the physics or astrophysics departments, and although plasma courses may be given in an engineering or applied science department, these often have too technological an orientation to attract astrophysics students. Depending on the inclination of the instructor, some plasma physics may be integrated into one or more of the astrophysics courses. However, very few astrophysics students receive much formal exposure to plasma physics and many astrophysicists view it as an arcane specialty. Nevertheless, many astrophysicists might like to learn more plasma physics when motivated to do so by developments in their subject. For example, recent measurements of magnetic field strengths in dense, star-forming interstellar clouds have shown that the fields are large enough to strongly affect or even dominate the dynamics. This has spawned a real interest in MHD among interstellar medium researchers, and a number of people who ignored magnetic fields throughout most of their careers are now writing papers on them. Such people would benefit from a good, modern text on plasma physics, stressing astrophysically interesting applications and using astrophysically relevant parameters and boundary conditions. Such a book could consist of chapters contributed by experts, provided that a good editor and refereeing system kept the quality high, and could also be used for a graduate course or seminar. RECOMMENDATIONS There is an increasing emphasis on industry-university partnerships, with industry moving toward greater reliance on university research. Therefore, not only is the health of university plasma science important to the academic plasma community, but it is also important for industry to have a vibrant plasma effort in universities. The panel recommends the following steps to improve education in plasma science: Both industry and academic members of the plasma community should use this report to support proposals to establish tenure-track positions in plasma science. Obtaining such positions will increase the likelihood of better scientists remaining in the plasma science field, and will attract higher-quality graduate students. Particular emphasis should be placed on establishing positions in physics departments. Industry and academic members of the plasma community should work with faculty and administrators to provide a course in basic plasma physics at the undergraduate senior level. This would be valuable for students going on into plasmas, fusion, astrophysics, electronics, and so on. To better prepare scientists and engineers for the many areas in which
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Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications plasma science is important, as demonstrated in this report, plasma researchers and teachers should develop (1) texts on plasma physics focused on other disciplines (e.g., astrophysics); (2) texts specifically suited for plasma subfields (e.g., low-temperature plasmas, plasma chemistry, and plasma processing); (3) chapters on plasma science for texts in other disciplines to develop "plasma literacy" in non-plasma scientists and engineers; and (4) undergraduate, senior-level texts in plasma science.
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