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Cool Science on a Hot Day as 3,000 Flock to PPPL’s June 1 Open House

More than 3,000 people flocked to PPPL’s Open House on June 1 where they were treated to rare glimpses of every corner of the Laboratory – from the machine shop water jets to tours of the National Spherical Torus Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U).  

About 175 PPPL staff members, including some family members, volunteered their time on a hot, sunny Saturday for the event, whether it was handing out snacks and water bottles, giving passersby directions or staffing the “Ask the Physicist,” and “Ask the Engineer” booth in the D Site parking lot.

 “The Laboratory staff did an absolutely amazing job preparing and showing off the Laboratory to the public,” said John DeLooper, head of best practices and outreach, who organized the event. “I think the people who were here were extremely appreciative and amazed at what we do at the Laboratory.”

Visitors leave rave reviews on whiteboard

In fact, the Open House and PPPL both got rave reviews on a whiteboard at the back of the Science Education Laboratory where visitors were invited to write. One note in the shaky print of a small child read, “I love this place!” Another young visitor got the Ls backward when he or she wrote, “I love, love this place!”

One appreciative adult writer was more specific. “Thanks for all the time, energy and thought that went into making this experience great for us,” she wrote. Another visitor thanked the scientists and engineers for making the Laboratory’s fusion research understandable. “Keep up the good work and always be able to tell the non-scientists why the research is necessary,” the visitor wrote.

 There were 1,000 more people at this year’s Open House than there were at the 2010 event and there was standing-room-only at many of the exhibits. “The people I talked to seem to be enjoying this,” said PPPL’s Andrea Moten, who coordinated volunteers for the event. “They’re very curious and inquisitive about the science.”

Popular new exhibits

Among the new exhibits this year was the Hall of Machines at the D site, where a drawing of ITER took up an entire wall and showed the scale of the machine compared to the NSTX, TFTR and other fusion machines. The NASA moon rocks exhibit was also popular. Children enjoyed the kid’s station in the courtyard where they could color and play in coloring, walking in sticky orange oobleck, a gooey substance named for a Dr. Seuss invention that’s made of cornstarch and water. (Science Education’s Deedee Ortiz and a group of volunteers used 100 pounds of cornstarch, 16 gallons of water and three tubes of concentrated orange coloring to create the oobleck at the Open House). Kids also tried out computer games to manipulate plasma and a Lego Mindstorms robot in the Commons.  There was also an art show by Princeton University students and their professor, well-known artist Josephine Halvorson, and an Art of Science exhibit by PPPL staff members.

 Kids got stamps at many of the stops for a scavenger hunt to earn an orange “Energy Ranger” badge, which was created by water jets at PPPL.

 The Science Education Laboratory was a popular stop, with dozens of people lining up to touch a plasma ball, try out the Van De Graaff generator or see a 3-D printer in action. Many enjoyed finding out about the plasma machine that demonstrates how fusion works.

Einstein mingles with the crowd

Albert Einstein, aka Arturo Dominguez, made an appearance dressed in a sweater and lab coat and answered questions and directed people throughout the day.  One of the comments on the whiteboard was from someone who wrote. “Albert Einstein is so cute!”  Another visitor told him, “I’m a fan of your work.”

Dominguez, who coordinated exhibits for the Open house, said the Open House was a hit. “We’ve gotten a lot of people stopping by and saying it’s been great,” he said. But by the end of the day, he was exhausted and ready to go home. “I am one tired Einstein,” he said.

Miles Birnbaum, age 6, from West Windsor, who was taking a break at the snack tent, said he really liked the snacks and the long tunnel. His mother, Christine Ferrara, was more enthusiastic about seeing the NSTX-U and other science experiments. “I enjoyed everything,” she said. “It was nice to be able to walk  up so close to things and it was nice to be able to ask a lot of questions.”

Tracy Rembecky, a teacher from Englewood, N.J. took her three nephews, who are also from North Jersey, to the Open House. She said she was encouraged to learn about new developments in fusion energy. “I love the idea of fusion, which is good for the environment,” she said. “It’s great to see it’s finally coming of age.”

 A treat for budding scientists

Sam Robey, age 8, a budding scientist from Princeton Junction, took notes when he toured the Laboratory. “I learned how to make plasma and I wrote it down,” he said, proudly displaying his notes and diagrams. “He liked that he could talk to all of the scientists and they’re very good at explaining at a general level,” said his father, Ethan. “It was all kind of cool.”

 Robert Storino, from Princeton Junction, came to the Open House with his wife and four children, one of whom, Emily, was celebrating her eighth birthday that day. They came at 9 a.m. and were still there five hours later and each had a different favorite activity.  Christopher, age 12, liked the 3-D printer and the hands-on plasma activities in the Science Education laboratory.  Emmanuel, age 11, liked the firefighting demonstrations, while Emily said her favorite was the water jet cutter, and Gabriel, age 5, thought the best activities were the firefighting demonstrations.

 “How can you keep four kids entertained? You keep it interesting,” said their father, who said he enjoyed seeing the NSTX-U and other experiments. “I think it’s a wonderful experience because you don’t get to see things like this,” he said. “I think all your presenters were excellent.”

His wife, Corinna, added, “You can tell everyone loves what they’re doing.”




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