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A science fan’s delight: PPPL’s Science on Saturday talks begin Jan. 13

For more than 30 years, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has brightened up cold winter Saturday mornings with eclectic and engaging talks on a wide spectrum of science topics by experts in the field. That tradition continues on Saturday, Jan. 13, with the start of the 2018 Ronald E. Hatcher Science on Saturday Lecture Series. 

The nine-week program is named for the beloved engineer Ronald Hatcher who hosted the lectures and who died in 2014, has a fan base ranging from high school students to senior citizens. There are several groups who meet each week at the science lectures and are on a first-name basis with Deedee Ortiz, Science Education program manager, who organizes the program and Andrew Zwicker, head of Outreach and Communications and Science Education, who hosts the talks. 

“For 33 years, the Science on Saturday lecture series has brought some of the country’s leading scientists to talk about their cutting-edge research with our local community, which is one of the most passionate, interested, science-loving communities around,” Zwicker said. “The age of the more than 250 people that typically show up every Saturday ranges from 10 to nearly 90 and now we are seeing those that first attended a lecture as a child returning as an adult with their own child.”

The free talks begin at 9:30 a.m. at PPPL’s Lyman Spitzer Building, 100 Stellarator Road, Princeton, and last an hour with time for Q&A and to meet the lecturer afterwards. But the tradition is that people arrive an hour early to enjoy a coffee and bagel and chat with fellow attendees. 

Some dedicated fans have come to the series since it started and a number of groups have their own traditions and even favorite areas where they sit. “Some people only see each other once a year on Science on Saturday and they pick right up where they left off,” Ortiz said. “I call them ‘the originals.’” 

The first talk of the year by Craig Arnold, director of the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials at Princeton University, is titled, “From Lemons to Lithium: Squeezing More life Out of Batteries.” Other talks range from a Feb. 17 talk by Princeton University neurobiologist Sam Wang on the brain, “Looking Ahead a Split Second: How the Brain Learns Predictions in an Unpredictable World,” to a March 3 talk by Ying Fan Reinfelder, of Rutgers University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science, on “How Deep Are Tree Roots and Why.” 

As always, there are talks focused on plasma science and fusion energy including. Amitava Bhattacharjee, Princeton professor of astrophysical sciences and head of PPPL’s Theory and Computation Department, who will talk about astrophysical plasmas on Jan. 27 and Michl Binderbauer, of Tri Alpha Energy, “On the Path to Clean Fusion Energy” on March 17.

A full schedule is available here. If you are not able to make it to the lecture, you can watch it live here. (Please note there is no lecture Feb. 24 due to the DOE’s New Jersey Science Bowl®) The lecture series is funded by the DOE’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences. 

No pre-registration for the lectures is required. However, adults must show a government-issued ID such as a license or passport at the security booth. Free parking is available on site. More information about visiting the Laboratory and directions can be found here.

If a lecture is canceled due to inclement weather, a message will be left on the Science on Saturday Hotline at 609-243-2121.

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, New Jersey, is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.


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

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