Nuno Loureiro

Associate Professor of Physics
Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering
Focuses on theory and simulations of astrophysical and laboratory plasmas.
Research Areas

Research Interests

MAGNETIC RECONNECTION

Magnetic reconnection is a ubiquitous phenomenon in nature: solar flares, magnetospheric substorms and the sawtooth and tearing instabilities in tokamaks are just a few examples of fascinating events where reconnection plays a key role. One of my research interests is in understanding the instability of the reconnection site (the “current sheet”) to the formation of multiple magnetic islands (or plasmoids). A review-style discussion of this topic can be found here:

  • N.F. Loureiro and D. A. Uzdensky, Plasma Phys. Control. Fusion 58, 014021 (2016) [link]

Magnetic reconnection is fundamentally an energy conversion mechanism: energy stored in the magnetic field is channeled into particle acceleration and heating. Another ongoing research direction aims to clarify the mechanisms for energy conversion in weakly collisional plasmas, particularly the importance of linear and nonlinear phase-mixing as electron and ion heating mechanisms. These issues are discussed in the two publications below:

  • R. Numata and N.F. Loureiro, J. Plasma Phys. 81, 305810201 (2015) [link]
  • N. F. Loureiro, A. A. Schekochihin and A. Zocco, Phys. Rev. Lett., 111, 025002 (2013) [link]

CONFINEMENT AND TRANSPORT IN FUSION PLASMAS

The ability to keep a fusion-temperature plasma well confined is critical to the success of the fusion programme. This is often impaired by turbulence and/or macroscopic instabilities. My research addresses both of these topics.
A key tool in these investigations is the massively parallel code Viriato developed by myself and colleagues. Viriato solves the equations of a 4D physical model known as reduced-gyrokinetics, an asymptotically exact simplification of 5D gyrokinetics. The main aspects of the code and an extensive set of benchmarks can be found here:

  • N. F. Loureiro et al., Comp. Phys. Comm. 206, 45-63 (2016) [link]

A complementary aspect of my research is the confinement of very energetic, fusion-born, alpha particles, which are critical to keep the plasma hot and ensure that fusion can be self-sustained. Alphas can resonate with a particular set of plasma waves (Alfvén waves), leading to their destabilization and ensuing alpha transport away from the plasma core. This issue is of particular importance to ITER, which aims to hold the first-ever burning plasma. A recent publication detailing some aspect of this work is:

  • P. A. Rodrigues, A. Figueiredo, J. Ferreira, R. Coelho, F. Nabais, D. Borba, N. F. Loureiro, H.J.C. Oliver, and S. E. Sharapov, Nucl. Fusion 55, 083003 (2015) [link]

OTHERS

In addition to the above, I have an active interest in several fundamental aspects of magnetized plasma dynamics, such as magnetic field generation and amplification, and turbulence in strongly magnetized, weakly collisional plasmas (where again simulations with Viriato play a key role). My publications on these topics (and others) can be found in my google scholar webpage.

Biographical Sketch

Nuno F. Loureiro is Associate Professor of Physics and Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT. He obtained his MEng. in Physics at Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon (Portugal) in 2000 and his Ph.D. in Physics at Imperial College in London (UK) in 2005. He was awarded the Thomas H. Stix Award for Outstanding Early Career Contributions to Plasma Physics Research (American Physical Society) in 2015 [link], the 2017 ANS Faculty PAI Outstanding Professor, and the NSF CAREER award in 2017.

He has an active interest in several fundamental aspects of magnetized plasma dynamics, such as magnetic reconnection, magnetic field generation and amplification, confinement and transport in fusion plasmas, and turbulence in strongly magnetized, weakly collisional plasmas. More detail on his research can be found on his webpage here.

More info:

For a “failure practitioner”, failure occurs when you learn nothing from not succeeding. And still, as a researcher, if you never get the answer you were seeking, is it a failure? Failing: from physics to metaphysics, with Nuno Loureiro.
Courtesy of FAIL! – Inspiring Resilience | YouTube

Awards & Honors

  • 2020 // PAI Outstanding Professor Award
  • 2018 // Bose Fellow
  • 2017 // NSF CAREER Award
  • 2017 // PAI Outstanding Professor Award
  • 2015 // Thomas H. Stix Award for Outstanding Early Career Contributions to Plasma Physics Research, American Physical Society

Key Publications

  • N. F. Loureiro, A. A. Schekochihin and S. C. Cowley, “Instability of current sheets and formation of plasmoid chains”, Phys. Plasmas 14, 100703 (2007)

  • K. M. Schoeffler, N. F. Loureiro, R. A. Fonseca and L. O. Silva, “Magnetic field generation and amplification in an expanding plasma”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 112, 175001 (2014)

  • N. F. Loureiro and S. Boldyrev, “Role of magnetic reconnection in magnetohydrodynamic turbulence”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 118, 245101 (2017)