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Science on Saturday attracts science fans of all ages

By 7:50 a.m. on Saturday morning, cars were already lining up at PPPL’s security booth. By 8:45 a.m., all the donuts and bagels were gone and by 9 a.m., the Lab’s 280-seat auditorium had filled, sending visitors to pack the cafeteria.

Welcome to Science on Saturday – the hottest ticket in town, where 510 people woke up early in the morning on a gloomy Saturday in January recently to listen to a talk on “Visualizing the Atomic World,” by Udo Schwarz of Yale University.

The lecture was so popular on this particular day that there was standing room only in the cafeteria where the audience watched the presentation on large television screens.

The crowd was made up of a mix of the young – high school students who are getting extra credit or are simply crazy about science and the mature – retired people who just can’t get enough science and who never miss a lecture, with many people of different ages in between.

For Varuni Bewtra, a senior high school student from Monroe Township, the lectures are a way for her to glimpse various science fields. “I was researching a lot of fields online but it’s not the same as actually listening to people who are in the field talking – so you can kind of get a feel for why they like it and what they’ve done with it and why they are successful. It’s kind of different because you can ask them questions also,” she said.

One 16-year-old from Pennington admitted she was there because she was getting extra credit but she said she enjoyed the lecture even from her seat in the cafeteria. She said she plans to go into engineering and didn’t mind missing some sleep to attend. “It’s still more ‘sleeping in’ than school,” she said with a shrug.

 “They don’t just come because they have to, they come because they want to,” said DeeDee Ortiz, a Science Education staff assistant who helps organize Science on Saturday. “I would never think of getting up that early when I was in high school but they’re into it.”


Sheldon Reich of Monroe Township has been coming with his wife Shirley for 10 years.  A retired mathematician, Reich said he comes to the program because “it’s the cutting edge of science. It’s a lot of new stuff that I didn’t know about, so it’s very interesting,” he said.

Tim Young of Princeton Junction also is a fan. “I just love every one of them,” he said. “The speakers are fantastic. I love to see the kids here. I think this is the greatest program you could think of.”

Two couples who are “regulars” at the lectures said they come to most lectures, rain or shine. Bob Neff of Levittown, Pa., a retired biology professor at Mercer County Community College, comes with his wife Elaine.  They met as biology majors at Temple University and have shared a fascination for science ever since.

They sit in the back of the auditorium with their friends the Alfares. Carlo Alfare, of Roosevelt, a chemistry professor at Mercer County Community College, gives his students extra credit if they come to Science on Saturday. He and his wife Mary, a retired nurse, are regulars. They began coming when their daughter Kathleen was 3. Now she’s 32 and has a PhD in chemistry and her mother gives some of the credit to the lectures.  “She was fascinated by it from a young age,” said Mary Alfare.

The two couples always arrive early but they still don’t always make it in time for the doughnuts. “We try to be there by 8:15,” said Mary Alfare, “because the kids walk a lot faster than we do.”

Feb. 2: “From 0 to C in 60 Minutes: A Crash Course in Einstein,” R. Shankar, Department of Physics, Yale University

Feb. 9: “Finding a Needle in a (Genomic) Haystack or How Can Computers Help Cure Cancer,” Olga G. Troyanskaya, Lewis Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and Department of Computer Science, Princeton University

Feb. 16: “From Robot Soccer to Automotive Safety: An Optical Tour,” R. Andrew Hicks, Department of Mathematics, Drexel University

Feb. 23: No lecture: Department of Energy’s New Jersey High school Science Bowl

March 2: “Light and Nanotechnology – Engineering and So Much More,” Claire Gmachl, Department of Electrical Engineering, Princeton University

March 9: “A Short History of Length,” Joel Langer, Department of Mathematics, Case Western Reserve University

March 16: “A Robot’s View of Our Ocean Planet,” Josh Kohut, Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, Rutgers University


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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