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New season of colloquia begins at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Just as autumn heralds the arrival of students at Princeton University, it also means the beginning of a new season of science colloquia at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The talks by invited speakers on various science and engineering subjects take place throughout the school year; the 2015-2016 inaugural lecture will be given on Sept. 21 by Princeton University physics professor Suzanne Staggs, who will present "Probing the History and Dynamics of the Universe with Polarized Signatures in the Cosmic Microwave Background."

But these talks don't organize themselves. A colloquium committee, newly chosen each year, meets to select the speakers. This year's committee is composed of Brent Stratton, David Mikkelsen, and Mike Mardenfeld.

Stratton, a physicist and head of PPPL's diagnostic division, came to the Laboratory in 1985. He has served on the committee twice before – once in the late 1980s and again in the 2005-2006 year. In his role at PPPL Stratton is responsible for National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U) diagnostics and is intimately involved with diagnostics at ITER. Stratton notes that being on the colloquium committee "keeps you busy, but it's an opportunity to meet interesting people in other areas of science." This year Stratton hopes to bring in speakers who aren't necessarily involved in plasma physics, perhaps scientists who research dark matter or cosmology.

Mikkelsen is a computational physicist who began working at PPPL in 1977 in preparation for the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) project. He currently is studying computer programs designed to help fusion physicists understand the transport process within plasma. Mikkelsen, too, previously served on the colloquium committee – once about 20 years ago. "I'm looking for speakers who will be intellectually expanding," said Mikkelsen, noting that scientists engaged in interesting research are not always the best orators. "One of the most difficult parts of the job is finding people who can speak well," he added.

Mardenfeld, a mechanical design engineer, has been at PPPL for the shortest amount of time. He began working at the Laboratory in 2009 and since then has been assigned to complex initiatives, including the construction of coils for NSTX-U, collaboration with scientists in Germany working on the Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) machine, and the design of an NSTX-U Langmuir probe. His position at the Laboratory was in fact his first job out of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, from which he holds both bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering. Mardenfeld feels that colloquia are integral features of life at PPPL. "Colloquia are interesting," he said. "I think that's a reason why people work at the Lab – they're interested in science in general."

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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