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PPPL From Portland to Princeton: Creative Lab staff teach the public about fusion energy

Members of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory’s (PPPL) Science Education staff were busy educating students and the public about fusion energy during the American Physical Society (APS) Division of Plasma Physics Conference in Portland, Oregon, Nov. 5 to 8. 

Physicist Arturo Dominguez, Science Education senior program leader at PPPL, joined Tammy Ma, a scientist at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, for a Nov. 5 talk on “Fusion on Earth: Creating a Star with Magnets or Lasers,” at a Science on Tap program. The two spoke to about 200 adults at the Alberta Rose Theater about magnetic and inertial confinement fusion and making fusion the energy of the future. “Drs. Dominguez and Ma explained the science in a way that was understandable and engaging, to all and explained how both approaches are working toward fulfilling the potential of fusion energy for all,” said Andrew Zwicker, head of Communications and Public Outreach at PPPL. 

PPPL also participated in Science Teachers Day on Nov. 6, a day of workshops about plasma, fusion and related sciences for middle school and high school teachers intended to inform teachers about current plasma research and provide tools to help students understand plasma science. 

PPPL’s Science Education team was one of several laboratories and institutions participating in the Plasma Sciences Expo on Nov. 8 to 9 at the Oregon Convention Center. The Science Education team and two dozen volunteers taught middle school and high school students about plasma and fusion energy through plasma demonstrations at PPPL’s table at the event. 

“Every year we involve the general public and local students to learn  about fusion energy science,” said Zwicker. “This year, dozens of volunteers shared our excitement about the beauty and complexity of plasmas with 1,300 students.”  

In addition to Zwicker and Dominguez, who was the lead organizer for both Science Teacher’s Day and PPPL’s Plasma Expo exhibit, and Deedee Ortiz, Science Education program manager, the following people helped: Princeton University’s Program in Plasma Physics graduate students Andy Alt, Eduardo Rodriguez, Tess Bernard, Suying Jin, Deepen Garg, Brian Kraus, Sierra Jubin, Abraham Chien, Jacob Schwartz, and Oak Nelson; James (Jimmy) Juno, a former intern under the DOE Office of Science-sponsored Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program; Joe Abbate, a graduate student and former summer intern at the Princeton Environmental Institute; and Roshan Chalise, a conference attendee from Nepal; Matthew Parsons, a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who was a computational plasma physics programmer at PPPL; Paul Hughes, Chris Smiet, and Seth Davidovits, postdoctoral fellows at PPPL; Drew Elliot, a postdoctoral fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Dick Majeski, a principal research physicist at PPPL.

The following Sunday, Shannon Greco, PPPL Science Education program leader, took part in a panel discussion on fusion energy at Princeton Public Library on Nov. 11. She joined Charles Swanson, a recent graduate of the Program in Plasma Physics, and Dave Johnson, a retired PPPL physicist, along with Jane Baldwin, a postdoctoral fellow with the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), in a discussion that was part  of the screening of “Let There Be Light,” a documentary about fusion energy. The panel was moderated by Michael Lemonick, Scientific American opinion editor. 

More information about PPPL’s Science Education programs is available here.

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.


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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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