Professor Donald B. Melrose

    Professor of the University, Sydney University, since 2000
    Professor of Physics (Theoretical), Sydney University, since January 1979

Professor Donald B. Melrose

Contact Details:

Prof. Donald B. Melrose
School of Physics A29
The University of Sydney
NSW 2006

Phone : +61 2 9351 4234
Fax : +61 2 9351 7726
Email :

Fields of Interest:

  • Plasma processes in astrophysics and geophysics with emphasis on
    • the emission, absorption and transfer of radiation in magnetoactive plasma,
    • particular applications to emissions from the solar corona, planetary magnetospheres and pulsars,
    • the scattering and acceleration of fast particles, and
    • the theory of solar flares.
  • Quantum electrodynamics, including the effects of superstrong magnetic fields.
  • Nonlinear plasma processes.

Brief description of my past and current research:

My current appointments are in the School of Physics, University of Sydney: as Professor of Physics (Theoretical) since 1979, as a Professor of the University, since 2000, and as an ARC Australian Research Fellow, 2003-2007. Previously I was Director of the Special Research Centre in Astrophysics, 1991-1999, and Head of School, 2001-2002. My previous academic appointment was: 1969-1979 in the Department of Theoretical Physics (since almalgamated with the Department of Physics), Faculty of Science, Australian National University. Prior to that I held post-doctoral appointments: 1968-9 in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Maryland; 1966-8 in the Belfer Graduate School, Yeshiva University; 1965-6 in the Department of Physics, University of Sussex. My graduate studies were in Theoretical Physics at Oxford University, 1962-5, and undergraduate studies were at the University of Tasmania, 1959-61, and the University of Western Australia, 1958.

Following completion of my doctoral thesis, on a topic in elementary particle physics (dimensional constraints on the properties of Feynman amplitudes), I changed my research interests to plasma astrophysics. The first astrophysical problem I worked on (in early 1966) concerned the distribution of plasma in the magnetosphere of Jupiter. In the (northern) summer of 1966 I attended the Les Houches summer school on plasma astrophysics, where I was introduced to the Russian approach to plasma physics; this approach is based on quantum mechanical ideas, and with my background in particle physics, this approach appealed to me. I summarized the subsequent involvement in the earlier years of the development of the field of plasma astrophysics in "Plasma astrophysics: personal recollections of the start of a new field", Australian & New Zealand Physics, 35, 104-107 (1998), and I expounded my early research interests in this field in a two-volume book "Plasma Astrophysics" published in 1980. (The manuscript was submitted early in 1978, and the books actually appeared in mid 1981.) These early interests included radiation processes in plasmas, and the scattering and acceleration of fast particles. In the 1970s and 1980s I made specific contributions to the theory of plasma emission and its application to solar radio bursts, the theory of electron cyclotron maser emission and its application to planetary, the theory of pulsar radio emission, and to various other problems in astrophysics and space physics. These interests have continued through the 1990s, with pulsars, scintillations and solar flares being notable emphases.

Another major stream in my research is in the kinetic theory of plasmas, particularly plasma instabilities and nonlinear processes in plasmas. My book "Plasma Instabilities in Spaces and Laboratory Plasmas", published in 1986 and in paperback in 1989, summarized my earlier interests in plasma theory. That book arose from a lecture course given in 1985 when I had a particularly outstanding group of graduate students. In 1990, Ross McPhedran and I wrote a book "Electromagnetic Processes in Dispersive Media" (Melrose & McPhedran, published in 1991, in paperback in 2005) based on an undergraduate lecture course in which the approach used in the kinetic theory of plasmas is also used to treat the more traditional aspects of classical electromagnetism and of waves in optical media. Another long-term project has involved synthesizing the kinetic theory of plasmas and quantum electrodynamics, into what I call "quantum plasma dynamics". I have published extensively on this topic since the first papers (numbered 21 and 36 in my CV), and have expounded this is a two-volume manuscript, volume 1 of which is in press with Springer. The synthesized theory has found particular application to processes in superstrong magnetic fields or relevance to pulsars.