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Nuclear & Plasma Sciences Society

Distinguished Lectures

Dr. Giovanni Lapenta

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium


The Particle In Cell (PIC) method as a general tool for plasma simulation and beyond

I will present an innovative derivation of the PIC method to highlight its general applicability as a tool for simulation not just in plasma physics but in any field of science. I will cover some general aspects of N-body problems, applied especially to plasma physics. I will cover both the intuitive physical derivation and the rigorous mathematical derivation of the PIC method. Examples will be provided with a simple but useful didactic code in MATLAB or OCTAVE.

The challenge of multiple scales in space weather and fusion plasmas

Space weather and fusion plasmas are systems with a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. After revisiting this fact, I will discuss what is the best model to treat each scale and illustrate the challenge of handling simultaneously all scales and all models needed for them. A new method is then proposed to handle the multiple physics and multiple scales within the implicit moment method. A pivotal application is shown to the simulation of the onset of a substorm in the Earth magnetotail.


photo of Dr. Giovanni Lapenta


  1. Master Degree in Nuclear Engineering at the Politecnico di Torino, February 1990.
  2. Ph.D. in Plasma Physics at the Politecnico di Torino, September, 1993.

Work Experience

  1. Professor of the Mathematics of Space Weather, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium)
  2. Technical Staff Member at LANL, 2000-2007.
  3. Tenured Research Professor of Plasma Physics at Politecnico di Torino, 1996-2001.
  4. Director’s Postdoctoral Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1994 to 1996.
  5. Visiting Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1992 to 1994.
  6. Visiting Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1992.

Research Interests

Lapenta’s research work focuses on computational physics and on the theory and simulation of problems in plasma physics.

In computational physics, Lapenta’s work has considered finite differences, finite elements and particle in cell methods, developing and analyzing new numerical techniques and applying numerical methods to the study of specific problems. Furthermore, Lapenta has worked on Krylov methods to solve linear systems, on non-linear Newton-Krylov methods and on adaptive meshes.

In plasma physics, Lapenta’s work has considered problems relevant to fusion devices, industrial plasma processing devices, complex (dusty) plasmas, astrophysics and space physics. Lapenta has published a number of papers on the kinetic study of linear waves and instabilities and on nonlinear processes in space and laboratory plasmas, focusing particularly on the process of magnetic reconnection.

Lapenta’s work has also considered problems in nuclear engineering and neutron transport for application to fusion and fission reactors. Lapenta has worked in statistical physics (non extensive or Tsallis distributions), in optical physics (optical waveguides and soliton dynamics) and in material science and engineering (simulation of soft matter and nanomaterials).

Lapenta has been involved in large research efforts in USA and in Europe, as principal investigator and as co-investigator. Examples are the LANL magnetic universe project; the NASA Sun Earth Connection Theory program; the Italian Institute for the Physics of Matter (INFM) project on non-neutral plasmas; the ESA-NASA project on complex (dusty) plasma experiments onboard the International Space Station Alpha; European projects on subcritical nuclear reactors for the transmutation of nuclear wastes. Lapenta has published about 200 works (60 on international refereed journals).

Current projects

1) Theory and simulation of plasma physics problems in space and in astrophysics.
2) Development of methods and algorithms for plasma and astrophysics simulation.

Contact Lecturer

Contact Dr. Giovanni Lapenta

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