Francesco A. Volpe


204 S.W. Mudd
Mail Code 4701

Tel(212) 854-6528
Fax(212) 854-8527

Francesco A. Volpe studies the fourth state of matter (the plasma –an ionized gas exhibiting collective behavior). He confines it by means of magnetic fields, heats it by means of microwaves, and stabilizes it by means of magnetic fields and microwaves. This research is performed both on university-scale experiments of the stellarator type, as well as at the DIII-D National Facility, of the tokamak type, and contributes to demonstrating the scientific and engineering feasibility of nuclear fusion as an abundant, carbon-free, and safe source of energy.

Research Interests

Magnetically confined tokamak & stellarator plasmas, with emphasis on: (1) microwave heating, current drive & diagnostics & (2) magnetohydrodynamic instabilities & their control

Research Areas

Volpe demonstrated how to measure the temperature of these very hot plasmas, hotter than the center of the Sun, under high-density conditions (desirable for nuclear fusion on Earth) that make standard techniques unusable. For this, he used special electrostatic waves. He then modeled numerically and deployed experimentally a related type of electromagnetic waves for the sake of generating currents in the plasma. By means of such currents, he suppressed “magnetic island” structures forming in the plasma, vaguely related to solar flares, which degrade fusion performance. Of special interest is the case in which the island locks in a position not accessible by the electromagnetic waves. Not only this case is harder to suppress, but is also more detrimental to the plasma in that it often terminates it in a way that wears the confinement device. Volpe suppressed such locked islands for the first time, using magnetic fields to make them accessible to waves.

More recently, inspired by this magnetic control of plasmas, Volpe developed techniques for the electromagnetic control of liquid metals. These are among the very few materials capable of withstanding the high heat and neutron fluxes in a fusion reactors. Challenges include their gravity-defying adherence to the walls and ceiling of the device; also, liquid metals will have to flow and maintain uniform thickness. Volpe’s techniques address such challenges.

Volpe pioneered the application of metamaterials to plasma heating and diagnostics, and is currently working toward simpler stellarator designs, and toward the experimental realization of record high pressures in a stellarator plasma, for the sake of observing theoretically predicted instabilities for the first time, and assessing their effects. 

Volpe received a BS in Physics from the University of Pisa (Italy) in 1998 and a PhD in Experimental Physics from the University of Greifswald (Germany) in 2003. He is a recipient of the Otto Hahn Medal of the Max Planck Society, of the Department of Energy (DOE) Early Career Award, and of the Excellence in Fusion Engineering Award of Fusion Power Associates.  


  • Staff Physicist, Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik (IPP), Garching, Germany, 2008
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, General Atomics, San Diego, USA, 2006-2008
  • Advanced Training, Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik (IPP), Greifswald, Germany, 2006
  • Physicist, Fircroft, UKAEA Fusion, Culham, UK, 2004-2005
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, UKAEA Fusion, Culham, UK, 2002-2004
  • Research Assistant, Consorzio di Magnetofluidodinamica, University of Trieste, Italy, 1998


  • Associate professor of applied physics, Columbia University, 2015-          
  • Assistant professor of applied physics, Columbia University, 2012-2015 
  • Assistant professor of engineering physics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2009-2011


  • American Physical Society
  • University Fusion Association
  • United States Burning Plasma Organization


  • Excellence in Fusion Engineering Award, Fusion Power Associates, USA, 2015
  • Visiting Assistant Professorship in Kyoto University, Japan, 2012
  • Department of Energy (DOE) Early Career Award, USA, 2011
  • Otto-Hahn Medal (thesis prize of the Max-Planck Gesellschaft), Germany, 2003


  •  S.M.H. Mirhoseini, R.R. Diaz-Pacheco, F.A. Volpe, “Passive and active electromagnetic stabilization of free-surface liquid metal flows”, Magnetohydrodyn. 53, accepted, in press (2017)
  • K.C. Hammond, S.A. Lazerson, F.A. Volpe, “High-β equilibrium and ballooning stability of the low aspect ratio CNT stellarator”, Phys. Plasmas 24, 042510 (2017)
  • F.A. Volpe, “Prospects for a dominantly microwave-diagnosed magnetically confined fusion reactor”, J. Instrum. 12, C01094 (2017)
  • F.A. Volpe, P.-D. Letourneau, A. Zhao, “Huygens-Fresnel wavefront tracing”, Comput. Phys. Commun. 212, 123 (2017)
  • M. Okabayashi, P. Zanca, E.J. Strait, D. Shiraki, F.A. Volpe et al., “Avoidance of Tearing Mode Locking and Disruption with Electro-Magnetic Torque Introduced by Feedback-Based Mode Rotation Control in DIII-D and RFX-mod”, Nucl. Fusion 57, 016035 (2017)
  • R. Sweeney, W. Choi, R.J. La Haye, S. Mao, K.E.J. Olofsson, F.A. Volpe, “Statistical analysis of m/n=2/1 locked and quasi-stationary modes with rotating precursors at DIII-D”, Nucl. Fusion 57, 016019 (2017)
  • F.A. Volpe, A. Hyatt, R.J. La Haye, M.J. Lanctot, J. Lohr, R. Prater, E.J. Strait, A. Welander, “Avoiding Tokamak disruptions by applying static magnetic fields that align locked modes with stabilizing wave-driven currents”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 115, 175002 (2015)
  • A.Mueck, L.Curchod, Y.Camenen, S.Coda, T.P.Goodman, H.P.Laqua, A.Pochelon, L.Porte, F.Volpe, TCV Team, “Demonstration of Electron-Bernstein-Wave Heating in a Tokamak via O-X-B Double Mode Conversion”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 98, 175004 (2007)
  • H.P.Laqua, H.Maassberg, N.Marushchenko, F.Volpe, A.Weller, W7-AS Team, W.Kasparek and ECRH-Group, “Electron-Bernstein-Wave Current Drive in an Overdense Plasma at the Wendelstein 7-AS Stellarator”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 90, 75003 (2003)