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Student interns dive into plasma in one-week course

PPPL launched about 60 student interns into a summer of research by hosting an intensive one-week course in plasma physics the week of June 11. 

The students, including 32 students in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program, attended lectures by experts at PPPL and from institutions around the country. They spent four days attending lectures and one day dividing their time between touring the Laboratory and doing hands-on plasma experiments in the Science Education Laboratory and the Graduate Student Laboratory. 

“The one-week course is a great way of giving them a crash course in plasma physics,” said Arturo Dominguez, a physicist and senior program leader in PPPL’s Science Education department who organizes the week along with Deedee Ortiz, Science Education program manager. “The course not only gives them the opportunity to interact with researchers from PPPL but also with researchers from all over the country, so they learn what’s being done in plasma physics in the U.S. and throughout the world.” 

Students in the 10-week SULI internship and DOE’s Community College Internships (CCI) program work on a research project under the guidance of a physicist or engineer. They then present a poster on their research at the end of the summer.  Selected SULI students participate as interns appointed at one of 17 participating DOE laboratories/facilities with the aim of encouraging young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The program is sponsored and managed by the DOE’s Office of Science and the Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists in collaboration with the national laboratories. 

“Every year we welcome the best and the brightest,” said Andrew Zwicker, head of Science Education and of the Office of Communications and Public Outreach. “This year is no exception and I look forward to seeing what they will accomplish over the course of the summer.” 

Students said they were very excited by the prospect of spending the summer working on physics and engineering projects at PPPL and at DIII-D National Fusion Facility at General Atomics and other institutions. “I’m really interested in fusion energy,” said Jill Peery, of Willamette University, who is one of several interns working with PPPL physicist Sam Cohen. “It’s really cool.” 

“I’ve always loved physics,” said Samantha Pereira, a student at Cornell University, who will do her SULI internship at PPPL with physicist Ahmed. Diallo as her mentor. “This was a chance for me to delve deep into the mysteries of physics and science so I really wanted to find some time working in an environment like this.” 

The lectures included an introduction to plasma physics by Nat Fisch, director of the program in plasma physics and a Princeton University professor of astrophysics, who began the course decades ago, magnetic confinement by Rob Goldston, a PPPL researcher and former director of the Lab and professor of astrophysical sciences; as well as lectures by PPPL physicists Erik Gilson and Will Fox, and Matt Kuntz, an assistant professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University. Gilson organized the tours. Other lectures included Troy Carter, a professor at the University of California-Los Angeles and a former graduate student who participated in the one-week course when he was a college intern and Tammy Ma, a first-time lecturer who is a research scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility.  

After the one-week course, 22 of the SULI students will work on projects with researchers at PPPL and 10 will work at DIII-D. PPPL is also hosting two interns from community colleges through the CCI program.  The one-week course also included three University of Tokyo students spending their summer at PPPL and four Princeton University students interning at the University of Tokyo through an exchange program funded by the two universities.  

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., 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.

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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