Amitava Bhattacharjee is a Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University and was Head of the Theory Department at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) from 2012 to 2021. He received his doctorate from Princeton in 1981 (under the supervision of Professor Robert Dewar), master's degrees from Princeton and the University of Michigan, and graduated with First Class Honors in Physics as an undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. After his formal studies, Bhattacharjee became a Fellow at the Institute for Fusion Studies, University of Texas at Austin (directed by Professor Marshall Rosenbluth), a Fellow on the faculty at the Plasma Physics Programme of the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad (directed by Professor Predhiman Kaw), an Assistant and Associate Professor (untenured) in the Department of Applied Physics at Columbia University (1984–1993), an Associate and full Professor at the University of Iowa (1993–2003), and Paul Professor of Space Science at EOS (Institute of Earth, Oceans, and Space) and the Department of Physics at the University of New Hampshire (2003–2012). “It seems I have trouble holding down a job for any more than ten years,” he says. After arriving at Princeton, he founded the Princeton Center for Heliophysics (with Professor Jay Johnson), a Princeton-PPPL collaboration that investigates the plasma physics of the sun and planets, served as a Director of the Max Planck Princeton Center (established by Professor Stewart Prager and Professor Sibylle Guenter), which studies the role of plasma physics in laboratory, astrophysical, and space plasmas, established the Simons Mathematical and Physical Sciences Collaboration on “Hidden Symmetries and Fusion Energy” as a partnership of Princeton University with an international consortium of institutions to optimize the design of stellarators, and led the DOE's Exascale Computing project1 on the Whole Device Modeling Application (WDMApp) that aims to achieve whole-plasma simulation of magnetically confined fusion plasma, featured in a Special Issue of the Physics of Plasmas (2021), guest-edited by Bhattacharjee and Jack Wells (NVIDIA).
Professor Bhattacharjee has made pioneering contributions to numerous topics in plasma physics, helped to launch the careers of more than 25 doctoral students and mentored over 40 postdoctoral scholars, authored or coauthored more than 375 research papers, coauthored with Professor Donald Gurnett the well-known textbook Introduction to Plasma Physics with Space, Laboratory, and Astrophysical Applications,2 served as Associate Editors for Geophysical Review Letters and Physics of Plasmas and Senior Editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research-Space Physics, chaired NASA's Living With a Star Targeted Research and Technology Steering Committee, and served on several advisory committees, including the recent National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Decadal Assessment of Plasma Science and the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Geophysical Union, and he was a Fulbright Research Scholar and Invited Professor at the Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau (France).
Bhattacharjee's service to the APS Division of Plasma Physics has been notable and consequential. He was the Founding Chair (1998–1999) of the APS Topical Group in Plasma Astrophysics and served as Chair of the Division during the 50th Anniversary of the APS Division of Plasmas Physics in 2008. On this occasion, Bhattacharjee (and the DPP Executive Committee) commissioned and edited the book The Plasma Universe3 to tell the story of plasma physics to the popular audience. Subsequently, he served as a Councilor to the Division of Plasma Physics and on the APS Board of Directors (2019–2022).
The citation for the 2022 James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics reads
“For seminal theoretical investigations of a wide range of fundamental plasma processes, including magnetic reconnection, magnetohydrodynamic turbulence, dynamo action, and dusty plasmas, and for pioneering contributions to linking laboratory plasmas to space and astrophysical plasmas.”
Professor Amitava Bhattacharjee's research encompasses decades of study on a range of plasma processes, including magnetic reconnection, magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) turbulence and singularity formation, kinetic theory, and strongly correlated dusty plasmas. Together with his students and collaborators, Bhattacharjee's noteworthy works include fast reconnection and the plasmoid instability in laboratory, astrophysical and space plasmas,4–9 weak MHD turbulence and the role of the plasmoid instability in MHD turbulence,10–13 variational principles with global constraints for turbulent relaxation,14 stellarators15–19 dynamo activity in turbulent plasmas,20,21 super-radiance22 and Ginzburg-Landau model of a free-electron laser,23,24 theory of hydrodynamic and lattice waves in strongly coupled dusty plasmas,25–28 and advancing the kinetic theory of weakly collisional plasmas.29 “Beginning when I was a graduate student, most of my work has been published in the pages of the Physics of Plasmas, which has a distinguished tradition of intellectual breadth spanning many decades and continues to be my plasma physics journal of choice,” he says.
The title of Professor Bhattacharjee's Maxwell Prize address was “Current sheets and the plasmoid instability: mediators of fast magnetic reconnection and turbulence.” Bhattacharjee reviewed our understanding in systems having closed magnetic field lines and those without, such as in stellar coronae and compact astrophysical objects.30,31 He spoke on the onset of plasmoid instability, turbulence mediated by thin current sheets and the plasmoid instability,32,33 new power laws introduced by coherent structures that play a role in particle acceleration, and discussed how exascale computers, exploited by state-of-the-art codes, hold the promise of breaking new ground in making predictions in plasma regimes previously inaccessible. Reflecting on his selection as the 2022 recipient of the James Clerk Maxwell Prize, Amitava said “My primary focus is on research and mentorship of the next generation of leaders in plasma physics, broadly construed. I search for fundamental perspectives on plasma processes in various phenomena in fusion, astrophysical, and space plasmas.”
Conflict of Interest
The author has no conflicts to disclose.