Honors Theses and Capstones

Date of Award

Spring 2012

Project Type

Senior Honors Thesis

College or School




Program or Major


First Advisor

Li-Jen Chen


The physics underlying particle-in-cell simulations that are widely employed in studying plasma dynamics are reviewed. Results from a two-dimensional particle-in-cell simulation of fully kinetic, undriven, collisionless magnetic reconnection are studied to compare the electrons in a primary magnetic island formed from an ion current sheet and the electrons in a secondary island formed in an electron current layer. We find that the secondary island is born with a strong out-of-plane current density due to localized peaks in the electron density and out-of-plane electron velocity; the secondary island retains these features as it evolves, distinguishing it from the primary island. For the first time distinct features in electron velocity distributions are established for both types of islands. These magnetic island comparisons and their connection to in situ Cluster observations are analysis techniques valuable to NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission to launch in 2014 which is capable of resolving the various types of electron distributions discussed in this thesis.