Learn about plasma applications from nuclear fusion powering the sun, to making integrated circuits, to generating electricity.

Course Details

Language English
Duration 6 week
Effort 6 hour/week

The first MOOC on applied plasma physics, now in self-paced mode: violent eruptions on the Solar surface, integrated circuit production, fusion energy and more.


This course, taught by world-renowned experts in the field, will provide you with an overview of applications in plasma physics, from the study of far distant astrophysical objects over diverse applications in industry to the ultimate goal of sustainable electricity generation from nuclear fusion. Together with Plasma Physics: Introduction, which introduces the basics of plasma physics, PlasmaApplication forms an originally 9 week MOOC introducing plasma physics and its applications. To enjoy this part on plasma applications, it is recommended to first familiarize yourself with the plasma physics basics taught in PlasmaIntroduction.
In the first part of this course, you will learn how nuclear fusion powers our Sun and the stars in the Universe. You will explore the cyclic variation of the Sun’s activity, how plasma flows can generate large-scale magnetic fields, and how these fields can reconnect to release large amounts of energy, manifested for instance by violent eruptions on the Sun. The second part of this course discusses the key role plasma applications play today in industry and medicine. After a brief survey of the field, you will study in detail how plasmas are generated and sustained in strong electric fields and how this knowledge can be used to avoid undesired occurrence of plasmas in the form of electrical arcs.
You will then in detail study the transition region between plasma and material surface, called the sheath, and you will learn why its properties are indispensable for the manufacturing of today’s integrated circuits. Finally, in the third and most extensive part of this course, you will familiarize yourself with the different approaches to fusion energy, the current status, and the necessary steps from present-day experimental devices towards a fusion reactor providing electricity to the grid. After deriving the general conditions for net energy gain from fusion, this course will focus on magnetic confinement fusion. You will learn about the key ingredients of a magnetic fusion reactor, how to confine, heat, and control fusion plasmas at temperatures of 100 million degrees Kelvin, explore the relevant transport mechanisms, and explore the challenges of plasma-wall interactions and structural materials.

What you will learn

  • Vision of different applications of plasmas

  • Understanding of the fusion energy challenge, and acquisition of the basis for developing an overall vision of the different R and D elements

  • Understanding of the main plasma societal applications and of the relevant tools

  • Vision and appreciation of the importance of plasmas in space and astrophysics


To enjoy this part on plasma applications, it is recommended to first familiarize yourself with the plasma physics basics taught in PlasmaIntroduction.

Course instructors

Alan Howling

Alan Howling obtained a Master in the Science and Application of Electric Plasmas at Oxford University, with his doctoral work at Culham Laboratory. In 1989, he co-founded the Industrial Plasma Applications group with Dr. Hollenstein. He is currently a se…

Prof. Ambrogio Fasoli

After obtaining his PhD at EPFL with a thesis on chaos in plasmas, Prof. Fasoli moved to JET in 1993 to investigate burning plasma physics and participate in the fusion power record experiments. In 1998 he joined the MIT Physics Department as Assistant Pr…

Prof. Christian Theiler

Christian Theiler obtained his master’s degree in physics from ETH Zurich and his PhD from EPFL. After a two-year postdoctoral research position at MIT’s Alcator C-Mod tokamak, he returned to EPFL as a EUROfusion fellow. In July 2016, he has been named Te…

Duccio Testa

Duccio Testa earned his master’s degree in Physics at the University of Torino, Italy, and his PhD at Imperial College, London. After four years as a post-doctoral fellow at MIT, he joined EPFL where he now mostly works on experimental plasma physics, wit…

Jean-Philippe Hogge

Jean-Philippe Hogge received the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics from EPFL. He spent then two years at MIT as a post-doctoral fellow and is now permanently employed at CRPP. His domain of expertise covers mainly the development of high power microwave s…

Prof. Paolo Ricci

Paolo Ricci earned his master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering at the Politecnico di Torino and his doctoral studies were conducted at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He spent two-and-a-half years as a postdoctoral researcher at Dartmouth College. In 2…

Prof. Ivo Furno

Ivo Furno earned his master’s degree in nuclear engineering at the Politecnico di Torino, Italy and his Ph.D. from the EPFL. He was postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Today he’s Adjunct Professor at EPFL leading the Basic Plasma Physic…

École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

Free online courses from École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

EPFL is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. The past decade has seen EPFL ascend to the very top of European institutions of science and technology: it is ranked #1 in E…

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