Research Field

Plasmas, microwave tubes, simulations; computational science and engineering.



B.S.E.   University of Michigan   1946
M.S.E.   University of Michigan   1948
Ph.  D.   Stanford University     1951

From 1951-1955 Dr. Birdsall worked at Hughes Aircraft Company on microwave tubes, including resistive-wall, reactive-wall and rippled-wall amplifiers, as well as periodic structures (e.g., ring-bar helix) and large-C analysis for high power traveling-wave tubes, leading to the first multikilowatt TWT at X-band.

From 1955-59 he was at the General Electric Microwave Laboratory as leader of the electron physics group, with work on electron guns, streams and traveling-wave tubes.


The work at Hughes and General Electric led to publication of 14 journal articles, granting of 27 patents (most co-authored) and election to Fellow of IEEE.

In 1959 he joined the Electrical Engineering Department, University of California, Berkeley.  An early result was the discovery of virtual cathode oscillations using computer simulation, (with W.B. Bridges). His research interests soon moved to high temperature plasmas, with emphasis on  understanding instabilities, heating and transport, through development and application of many-particle computer simulations. He has been principal investigator, plasma computational research, with AEC then ERDA and then DOE from 1966 to 1993, ONR since 1977,  AFOSR since 1992 and DOE/NSF since 1997. He has been consultant to industry, and to Lawrence Livermore National Lab 1960-1986, was Miller Professor in 1963-64, and spent  leave at Osaka University, Japan in 1966, initiating cloud-in-cell (CIC) 2d, 3d many particle simulations (with T. Kamimura)*.   He founded the plasma theory and simulation research group (PTSG) in 1967. He was on leave at LLNL during the 1969-70 academic year. In 1972-74 he founded and chaired the campus-wide Energy and Resources Program (now ERG), with faculty, integrative courses at all levels, and interdisciplinary research. In 1977-78 and 1979-80 he chaired the College of Engineering Energy and Energy Resources Committee. In 1981-82 he began study of plasma-surface interactions while on leave, as Foreign Research Associate at IPP, Nagoya, Japan and then Visiting Chevron Professor of Energy at California Institute of Technology, with a guest visit to China.  In 1984-86 he was the first area  coordinator for EECS faculty in physical electronics and  bioelectronics.  A 1988 milestone was discovery of the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability at the boundary of a crossed-field plasma (with K. Theilhaber). In Fall 1988 he was Visiting Professor at Nagoya University, Japan. In Spring 1991 he was a Fulbright Lecturer/Researcher at University of Innsbruck, Austria.  In the summers of 1985, 1991, and 1993, 1995, 1997, and 1999 he taught simulation at ICTP, Trieste, Italy. In Spring 2002, he was JIFT Visting Professor at National Institute for Plasma Science (NIFS), Toki, Japan. He is now an IPA (visitor) at Air Force Research Lab, Albuquerque, June 2002, continuing, 8 weeks/year. In Fall 2003, he will be Visiting Professor at Gunma University, Japan.


Current research is focused on bounded plasmas especially laboratory discharges, including collisions (Monte Carlo collisions, PIC-MCC codes), possible full fusion reactor, and microwave electron beam device simulations, all with visualizations. Current teaching is with simulation: biannually at U.C., plus many short courses and workshops around the world.


Birdsall PTSG Ph.D. graduates 1959-2002 number 31, plus 15 Post-Docs; half of both groups worked on fusion research projects. Ten Birdsall graduates are now professors. Birdsall journal articles number 106; his PTSG numbers 74, grand total is 180. Birdsall former student honors, prize winners include: W.B. Bridges (NAE, NAS, Pres. Optical Soc. of America, inventor optical solitons in fibers, more), K. Bowers (best Ph.D. thesis awards, APS/DPP 2001, and same from EECS Dept. UCB, 2001), A. Hasegawa (APS/DPP Maxwell Award 2000).

Tau Beta Pi, Phi Kappa Phi, Sigma Xi, Eta Kappa Nu; IEEE (Fellow, 1962); American Physical Society (Fellow, 1972); American Association for the Advancement of Science (Fellow, 1981).

Sylvania Fellowship 1948-49; National Research Fellow (RCA Fellowship in Electronics), from NRC 1949-51; Visiting MacKay Professor, University of California, Berkeley, 1959; Professor, Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science, 1963-64 (University of California, Berkeley); Associate Editor, IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices, 1964; NSF Grantee, U.S. Japan Cooperative  Science Program, 1966; Senior Visiting Fellow, University of Reading, England, Summer 1976; Foreign Research Associate, Institute of Plasma Physics, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan, Fall 1981 and Winter 1982; Visiting Chevron Professor of Energy, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, Spring and Summer 1982; Guest of Academia Sinica, China, lectured at Beijing and Hefei, September 1982; Visiting Research Scholar at Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics,  Garching, Germany and at Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Innsbruck, Austria, Winter 1985; IEEE Plasma Science and Applications Award of the  IEEE Nuclear and  Plasma Sciences Society ; awarded June 1988 (first time given); Joint Institute of Fusion Studies (JIFT), Visiting Professor, Institute of Plasma Physics, Nagoya University,  Japan, Fall 1988; Fulbright Award, University of Innsbruck, Austria, Spring 1991; Berkeley Citation, 1991; JIFT Visiting Professor, NIFS, Nagoya, March-May 2002; Visiting Prof. Gunma University, Japan, Sept. to Dec. 2003.

Electron Dynamics of Diode Regions (with W. B. Bridges) Academic Press, 1966; Plasma Physics via Computer Simulation (with A. B. Langdon)**, McGraw-Hill 1985, Adam-Hilger and IOP 1991; Bounded Plasmas (with S. Kuhn), limited circulation, articles and reports, 1978-93.

*    The special 30th Anniversary issue of the Journal of Computational Physics (Vol. 135, No. 2, August 1997 was devoted to 26 articles "that had been widely influential in the style that JCP seks to achieve."  One article included was Birdsall's 1969 article with Dieter Fuss, titled "Clouds-in-Clouds, Cloud-in-Cells Physics for Many-Body Simulation"  (reprinted from the Journal of Computational Physics, Vol. 3, No. 4, April 1969, pp. 474-511).

**   The July/August 1997 issue of Computers in Physics (Vol. 11, No. 4, pp.348-349) presented the journal's Library of Classics, 27 books nominated by CIP readers as "books that have attained the status of classics--books that belong on the shelves of every reader of Computers in Physics", including Birdsall & Langdon.