Plasma Physics Group

This is an IOP special interest group, which is a community of IOP members focused on a particular discipline, application or area of interest. Special interest groups allow members to connect and share knowledge and ideas. The IOP funds groups to deliver a range of activities including events, prizes and bursaries. All of our groups are driven by members.

About the group 

As a special interest, member-driven group, we promote the study of plasmas in the United Kingdom and Ireland. We encourage forums for the exchange of ideas across the broad range of plasmas in science and engineering.

More than 99% of material in the universe is ionized. On Earth, plasmas are used to produce most of our artificial light. Plasmas are essential to the semiconductor manufacturing industry and at the heart of the search for commercial energy from nuclear fusion.

Plasmas are ionized gases in which long-range electrical and magnetic interactions involving charged particles dominate over collisions between neutral species. 

Wide ranges of particle energies and particle densities are involved. Plasma physics spans densities and temperatures ranging from:

  • tenuous interstellar medium, to dense ablation plumes around the focal spots of high power, short-pulse lasers
  • around a hundred million kelvin associated with nuclear fusion reactions, to a few thousand kelvin in maintaining the electrical conduction in gases


Specific research areas include:

  • laser-plasma interactions
  • controlled thermonuclear fusion
  • electrical discharges for lamps and lighting
  • non-thermal plasmas for physical and chemical processing and analysis of materials
  • astrophysics and space physics including intergalactic and interstellar media, solar-terrestrial and magneto/iono-spheric plasmas

We have common interests with the:

  • Computational Physics Group
  • Medical Physics Group
  • Atomic and Molecular Interactions Group
  • Particle Accelerators and Beams Group
  • other learned and professional bodies including the Royal Astronomical Society, the S3 Group and  the Institution of Engineering and Technology 

Student bursaries

We award student bursaries to attend our annual conference and other plasma meetings including the UK Plasma Technology Training School. 

With the UK Atomic Energy Authority we offer an annual prize for the best thesis in plasma physics submitted to a UK or Irish university.

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Group physics prizes and competitions

Culham Thesis Prize

This annual prize is for excellence in the scientific method recognised by the award of a Doctor of Philosophy degree in plasma science from a UK or Irish university in the last two years. 

The prize is £500 plus the costs of participating in the annual IOP Plasma Physics Conference where the winner is asked to give a talk. 

The thesis should:

  • be well explained
  • demonstrate a good understanding of the subject
  • show significant new work and originality, clearly driven by the nominee
  • have been submitted two years before the nomination deadline
  • be authored by a member of the Institute of Physics

Previously unsuccessful theses can be re-submitted. Please make this clear in the nomination.

Proposers are encouraged to nominate the highest quality work. There is one nomination per proposer. There are no runner-up places for this prize.

Nominations will be accepted by email (preferred) or by post. If submitting in hard copy, please ensure that all material is sent in triplicate and by registered post. Nominations should be sent to:

Andrew Thornton
Culham Centre for Fusion Energy
Culham Science Centre
OX14 3DB

The deadline for nominations is Monday 9 December 2019. 

Further information about the prize can be obtained from

The prize is sponsored by Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) and jointly coordinated by CCFE and our group.



Kevin Verhaegh

University of York. For his thesis, spectroscopic investigations of detachment on the TCV tokamak


Clare Scullion

Queen's University Belfast. For her thesis, Investigations of Ion Acceleration from Solid Targets Driven by Ultrashort Laser Pulses.


Dr Jason Cole

Imperial College London. For his thesis, Diagnosis and Applications of Laser-Wakefield Accelerators.


Thomas White, University of Oxford. For his thesis, Resolving Ion Acoustic Waves in Warm Dense Matter.


Dr David A. MacLellan

University of Strathclyde. For his thesis, Effects of Electrical Resistivity on Fast Electron Transport in Relativistic Laser-Solid Interactions.


Dr Guy Burdiak

Imperial College London. For his thesis, An investigation of Cylindrical Liner Z-pinches as Drivers for Converging Strong Shock Experiments.


Dr Charlotte Palmer

Imperial College, London, For her thesis, Approaching the Radiation Pressure Regime of Proton Acceleration with High Intensity Lasers.


Dr S M Vinko

University of Oxford. For his thesis, Studying Dense Plasmas Using Intense UV and X-ray Free-Electron Laser Radiation.


Stefan Kneip

Imperial College, London. For his thesis, Laser Plasma Accelerator and Wiggler.


Ian Chapman

Imperial College London. For his thesis, Modelling the Stability of the n=1 Internal Kink Mode in Tokamak Plasmas.


Dr Ben Dudson

University of Oxford. For his thesis, Edge Turbulence in the Mega-Amp Spherical Tokamak. 


Dr Louise Willingale

Imperial College London. For significant experimental and numerical work on the acceleration of ions to high energies by laser-plasma interaction.


Dr Phil Nilson

Imperial College London. For Measurements of the Dynamics of Laser and Soft X-Ray Heated Targets by XUV and Optical Probing.


Dr Stuart P D Mangles

Imperial College London For measurements of relativistic electrons from intense laser-plasma interactions.


Dr Barney Walton

Imperial College London. For novel experimental investigations of beat-wave acceleration as intense electromagnetic fields interact with material in a plasma state.


Dr Andrea Ciardi

Imperial College London. For laboratory investigation and modelling of hypersonic jets in wire array Z-pinch experiments.


Dr Roderick Kennedy

University of Oxford. For innovative research on the application of probe theory to dust particles immersed in plasma.


Dr Eugene Clark

Imperial College London. For ground breaking research on proton and ion acceleration in ultra intense laser plasma interactions.  

The Malcolm Haines Prize for an early career physicist

This prize is awarded once every two years to an early career physicist. The award recognises early researchers for one or more of the following:

  • outstanding research
  • innovation
  • leadership 

Nominees are:

  • based in the UK or Ireland 
  • working in experimental or theoretical plasma physics 
  • researchers with less than six years of work experience after having completed a PhD or less than 10 years without a PhD, excluding career breaks

Plasma physics is defined for this prize to include:

  • laser plasmas
  • warm dense matter
  • low temperature plasmas
  • technological plasmas
  • space/astrophysical plasmas
  • magnetically-confined and inertially-confined fusion plasmas

The prize is in honour of the late Malcolm Haines, an outstanding plasma physicist at Imperial College London. It is sponsored by his widow, Polly Haines. 

The prize is open to all members of the plasma physics community. 

Self-nominations will be accepted, but in such cases a second nomination is required from a person who is a member (in any category) of the Institute of Physics and is based at an institution other than that of the nominee.

Nominations should include a copy of, or URL link to, one paper to which the nominee has made a major contribution. The paper should have been published, or accepted for publication, in a refereed journal.

Nominations should be sent by e-mail to to Dr Josie Coltman



Dr Nick Walkden

Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. For his paper, “3D simulations of turbulent mixing in a simplified slab-divertor Geometry”

The next Haines Prize will be awarded in 2021
Poster Prize

The prize is for the best poster presented by a student at our annual conference.

Prizes are £50. 

The judges are two eminent scientists who look for:

  • considered use of the scientific method
  • a good balance between text and figures
  • a strong theme running through the poster leading to firm conclusions

Each candidate is asked:

  • to emphasise the key points
  • for a brief description of the work
  • questions to clarify issues and examine the broader context of the research

The decision of the judges is announced at the annual conference dinner.

Rutherford Plasma Physics Communication Prize

The prize is for excellence in the communication of plasma physics to non-experts. It recognises outreach work with the general public.

The prize is £500. 

Nominations and self-nominations are welcome.

The winner is announced at our annual conference. 

Applications must show:

  • discussion on the impact of the activity 
  • evidence of excellent communication skills

Anything that communicates plasma science can be considered - the more creative the better. Applications should be based on a single rather than a range of activities. Previous applications have included:

  • a website
  • a talk or lecture
  • writing an essay or an article for a magazine
  • blogging or producing a podcast or video

The prize is open to all members of the plasma physics community. Applications are judged by distinguished scientists and communicators, these include:

  • one plasma physicist
  • one non-plasma physicist
  • one non-physicist

This prize is sponsored by Science and Technology Facilities Council Central Laser Facility



The A Glass of Seawater team, University of York. For its series of podcasts on plasma physics and nuclear fusion. 


Dr Jena Meinecke

University of Oxford. For her role as lead organiser for the 2017 Royal Society Summer Exhibition stand, How to Make a Supernova featuring plasma research conducted on large laser facilities (focused on AWE's Orion laser) to recreate astrophysical environments in the lab. 


Dr Melanie Windridge

Business Development Manager for Tokamak Energy. For her popular science book, Aurora: In Search of the Northern Lights, published by William Collins in 2016. 


Kate Lancaster

University of York. For her Friday evening Discourse lecture at the Royal Institution.

Rachel McAdams, Ben Moody, Lee Morgan, Mohammed Shahzad and Tom Williams,

University of York. For their short film aimed at children aged 9-11, which explains why scientists are trying to build a 'mini-sun' on earth. 

We also submit nominations for Institute awards such as the Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin Medal and Prize

For more information email the group secretary Dr Josie Coltman

Physics resources 

Download the Institute of Physics public engagement and outreach resources.

Find resources and how to keep in touch with science communication and outreach events at The British Science Association  the UK's open membership organisation to discuss and challenge the sciences.

Make quick calculations to support you student or scientist research with the Warwick Plasma Calculator  which has web-based interactive tools for plasma physics education and research.


Contact the Royal Astronomical Society  for a list of speakers that includes space and astro plasma speakers.

Invite or volunteer as a speaker at Speakezee. 

Email group secretary Dr Josie Coltman to invite a speaker to your event or include resources here.

Group events

Find group events on the IOP events portal.


Useful links

  • Cafe Scientifique is where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, you can explore the latest ideas in science and technology. Events all over the country are a way to communicate your science to a friendly public audience. 
  • I’m a Scientist is where school students talk online with scientists and vote for their favourite scientist in an X-Factor-style competition. Winners are awarded £500 to spend on a communication based project.
  • STEM Learning Ambassadors brings scientists and young people together in the classroom. Sign up as a STEM ambassador, find your local area contact and learn how get a free DBS check for your ambassador activities.
  • Science and Technology Facilities Council for the latest news and funding opportunities, and STFC supported communication and outreach activities.

Committee and contacts

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