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Arturo Dominguez: a passion for teaching about magnetic fusion

Arturo Dominguez is a man who clearly has zeal for the mission of teaching young people -- and anyone else who will listen -- about the bright future of magnetic fusion.

 As the newest member of the Science Education staff at the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, where he is a postdoctoral fellow, Dominguez is full of enthusiasm for a job that allows him to combine his love of physics research with his passion for educating people about how plasma physics will lead to a renewable energy source. 

 “There’s a big disconnect between what we know about plasma and fusion and what the general community knows about it,” he said. “There’s a big learning gap that we really need to fill. I think that’s what got me into science education.”

 Dominguez replaced Stephanie Wissel, who joined the research staff at UCLA, where she will have research assignments in Antarctica and Hawaii.

A many-faceted job

Dominguez said he enjoys the fact that there are so many facets to his job.  He might start his day working on a project to build a DC discharge demonstration project and then travel to Trenton to work with high school students or visit other local schools.

 Andrew Zwicker, head of Science Education, said Dominguez brings a lot to his multifaceted job. “He’s taking on a bunch of different roles,” Zwicker said. “He’s taking his plasma physics knowledge and applying it to a plasma education project, he’s taking his fusion knowledge and applying it to education with students.”

Dominguez recently received his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he worked on the Alcator C-Mod tokamak and often collaborated with PPPL scientists.

Dual role as scientist and educator at American Physical Society conference

His dual role as scientist and educator could be seen at the American Physical Society conference in Rhode Island. He presented a poster on his PhD research at the conference and manned a booth with several colleagues and PPPL volunteers at the Science Expo. Some 2,000 students flocked to the event.

A native of Colombia, Dominguez came to the U.S. in 2000 to study physics as an undergraduate at the University of Texas, Austin. While he was in college, he began working with Professor Kenneth Gentle, who got Dominguez interested in studying plasma and fusion. He went on to MIT to pursue his new interest.

 Dominguez has retained his zest for research but his enthusiasm and passion for outreach and teaching is obvious. “I like the outreach component a lot and the teaching part a lot,” Dominguez said. “I think one of the most important things we need to do is communicate to the general public and students the importance of plasma physics and fusion.”

 Once every two weeks, Dominguez and his colleague Aliya Merali travel to Trenton Central High School to meet with students involved in the Clouds  (Classroom Leadership Operative in u-gravity Discovery Science) program. The students are learning about the scientific process by designing and developing their own zero gravity experiment.  “Working with kids is really great because there’s a lot of enthusiasm there and it looks like they really enjoy the process,” he said.

Research projects with Science Education include DC discharge demonstration

 He has a hand in various research projects in Science Education but his big project is a DC discharge demonstration exhibit for the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. The exhibit would allow visitors to manipulate a plasma by using a touchscreen. . They can learn what happens when levels of voltage, pressure or magnetic field are altered.  He is hoping to test the device sometime next spring.  “It’s a good way of showing plasmas to people,” he said. They also plan would like to use the device in other museums and perhaps even in PPPL’s lobby.

 Dominguez is married to Carolina Pabon-Escobar, a graduate student at Pratt University who is studying industrial design.  The high school sweethearts maintained a long-distance relationship when Dominguez left for the University of Texas. They got married when Pabon-Escobar came to the U.S. in 2006.

A Brooklyn commute

 They live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, near Pabon Escobar’s university.  The couple has little free time. When there’s room in the schedule, however, they enjoy salsa dancing.

 When Dominguez first began at PPPL in mid-September, he rented a room near the Princeton Junction train station and stayed there a few days a week.  He commuted to PPPL on a Vespa motorcycle, which he dubbed “Lady,” wearing his trademark ladybug helmet.  Dominguez gave up his room and hung up his helmet in November and jokes that “Lady” is going to hibernate. He and his wife purchased a car, which he dubbed “Tramp” after the Disney movie “Lady and the Tramp,” that he uses to commute from Brooklyn.

 Meanwhile, he seems to have his hand in everything and the list of projects is growing. “It’s great because there’s a lot of brainstorming of ideas, of things we can be doing,” he says, “so it’s keeping me very sharp.” 

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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