Fusion plasma theory and modelling

The Plasma Theory and Modelling group focuses on understanding these fundamental properties of plasmas through a variety of different academic perspectives.


Big machines, hot plasma, and cool technology

Cutaway diagram of the future ITER experiment
  • Plasma physics lies at the centre of many exciting technologies that are undergoing rapid development in the scientific and engineering communities. In particular, the drive behind magnetically-confined nuclear fusion is gaining significant momentum with the recently emerging desires of governments and national populations to get away from fossil-fuel based power. Construction has recently started in France on the first fusion reactor--dubbed ITER--that will consistently produce more energy than it consumes. The technical and scientific challenges inherent to the construction of ITER are some of the greatest that the scientific and engineering communities have ever had to face. Consequently, a race is currently underway to ascertain as much understanding as possible about the fundamental workings of magnetically confined plasmas, so as to best ensure the success of ITER when construction is completed in 2024.

The Plasma Theory and Modelling group focuses on understanding these fundamental properties of plasmas through a variety of different academic perspectives. With a particular focus on magnetically-confined plasma physics, the group has an eclectic range of expertise including modelling and computer simulation of plasma turbulence and equilibria, fluid dynamics, mathematical theory of dynamical systems, plasma diagnostic design and using advanced statistical techniques in analysing experimental data. The group also actively fosters international collaboration in plasma research and is currently engaged in research with scientists in the UK, Germany and the United States.

Beyond nuclear fusion, the Plasma Theory and Modelling group has members whose interests also include the dynamics, modelling and computer simulation associated with weather, fluid flow and space plasma phenomena, to name just a few.

If you have any interest in plasma theory or modelling please feel free to contact any of the researchers in the group; we would be very happy to talk with you!


Advanced Monte Carlo Modelling for Network Tomography

The study of toroidally confined plasmas requires the tackling of very complex inverse problems, like inferring the internal behaviour of the plasma from limited data provided by sensors. A cross disciplinary research project was undertaken by Matthew Hole and honours student Ashley Barnes, where the modelling and inference skills of the group were applied to computer network tomography. 

Network tomography, much like the Positron Emission Tomography (PET) used in medical imaging, is the inferring of internal structures, behaviours and properties of a network by analysing traffic passing between nodes in a network. Where PET analyses the behaviour of positrons passing through tissue to image the internal structure, network tomography can describe the inference of traffic flow, node status and structure of a network. Like investigating the behaviour of plasma currents from limited sensor data, problems in this field require the inference of network properties from the traffic data between a limited number of ‘monitor’ nodes that one has access to.

This project focuses on optimising the placement of these monitor nodes so as to maximise the chance that certain network behaviours can be inferred. So far, we have used a novel stochastic network model to demonstrate that certain monitor placement algorithms perform better than others in dynamic, load balancing networks. 

Potential Student Projects

There are several additional ideas that would work well as honours or masters projects, including:

  • Breaking networks down into topological constituents and determining whether certain topological properties lend themselves to better inference than others.
  • Implementing the Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) network protocol within the model in order to introduce OSPF poisoning attacks. These attacks could then be another network behaviour to detect and locate with the Monte Carlo inference.

If you’re interested in learning more, please contact Ashley ashley.barnes@anu.edu.au or Matthew matthew.hole@anu.edu.au


An overview of the research activity within the group is available in the following seminars.


Controlled magnetic confinement fusion offers the possibility of an inexhaustible supply of energy with zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Student intake

Open for Honours, Masters, PhD students


Edge Localised Modes – linear stability and dynamics

Student intake

Open for Bachelor, Honours, Masters, PhD, Summer scholar students


Fusion energy promises baseload electricity generation with zero greenhouse gas emissions, a virtually inexhaustible supply of fuel, and significantly reduced radioactive waste, compared to fission and coal.

Student intake

Open for Honours, Masters, PhD, Summer scholar students


Magnetic equilibrium and particle orbit modelling of the OpenStar Dipole

Student intake

Open for Honours, Masters, MPhil, PhD, Summer scholar students


The goal of this project is to compute the particle orbits in a MRxMHD equilibrium with fully 3D field and quantify the impact of the islands and chaos to particle confinement.

Student intake

Open for Honours, Masters students


In this project we rederive and implement a recently published quantum algorithm for the Vlasov-Maxwell system of equations in Q#, a quantum computation platform.

Student intake

Open for Honours, Masters, PhD, Summer scholar students






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Emeritus Professor

Michael Fitzgerald

Visiting Fellow

More information

Research in the physics of complex physical systems spans physics, engineering, applied mathematics and computational science. Research in this multidisciplinary field gives a good generalist training applicable to many careers.

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As PT&M scientists have strong collaborations with researchers around the globe, often overseas collaborators will come and visit the PT&M group at ANU to not only work on research but to also give talks to the school about their academic work. Here you will find information on researchers that recently came to work on their collaborations with PT&M group members.

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Fusion plasma theory and modelling publications

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Useful links

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