Fluids and Plasmas: Ph 609 Spring 2008

General Description

The course will present some aspects of fluid mechanics and the physics of plasmas. While the course has a strong emphasis on applications to astronomy, it should be of value to students in all walks of physics and applications in other areas will creep in from time to time. All students with PhD research projects in astronomy should take this course. No graduate level astronomy courses are required as background, but the course will assume standard graduate level preparation in physics.


The class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays at 1:40pm in SEC room 212.

My room number is W308 in the Serin labs and internal telephone extension 5-5287. I have no particular office hour - please feel free to come to see me at any reasonable time.


I will work closely from Gas Dynamics, Volume II of The Physics of Astrophysics (1992) by Frank H. Shu (University Science Books). I like it because it adopts an informal and practical approach, but unfortunately there are quite a few typos in the math, some of which are listed here. (If you find a typo I have not noted, please let me know.)
I will attempt to work through the book at the approximate rate of one chapter per lecture with the following exceptions:
I know of no other book that covers both fluids and plasmas at the right kind of level. Other books that might contain helpful material are:

Lecture notes

Notes for my lectures will be available ahead of each class, but are password protected. I will give out the username and password in class that will enable you to access them from here.


There will be two main methods of assessment: homework and a term paper, although I will also give some credit for class participation. Homework questions will be drawn from the textbook, possibly supplemented by other questions.

Term paper

The term paper should be on a topic closely related to the course. It should be a review of research papers, going into more detail than in the lectures and should include your own appraisal of the work reviewed. It will count 50% of your grade and will be assessed in three parts:

a) A preliminary plan (5%) is due by March 12. It should be in note form (about 1 page), state the main issues to be discussed in the final paper and list some relevant research and/or review papers.
b) The written paper (30%), which must be typewritten and approximately 12 pages in length, is due by April 21. The paper should constitute a critical assessment of the recent literature on the topic chosen and not simply be a summary of one or two papers.
c) Oral presentation (15%): You will make a half hour presentation of your paper to the rest of the class. The presentation will be assessed for a clear explanation of why the topic is of interest, the central few points of the paper, statements of the main uncertainties and criticisms, and finishing within the allotted time. Presentations will be in classes in the last week or so of the semester.