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PPPL photographer wins award for scientific conference photo

Elle Starkman, an award-winning photographer at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) Office of Communications, has received a new honor for a photo of more than 400 people attending a scientific conference at Princeton University.

Starkman, who has been photographing the people and experiments at the U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory operated by Princeton University for 21 years, won Honorable Mention in the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) competition for District 2. CASE is an international organization serving educational institutions throughout the world. Each year, it recognizes best practices, outstanding work, and scholarship in higher education advancement.

Starkman’s photo received Honorable Mention in the Excellence in Photography category for a photo of 450 scientists and staff gathered for the 2018 International Conference on Plasma Surface Interactions in Controlled Fusion Devices. The conference, organized by PPPL and Princeton, brings together all major fusion institutes on the planet to discuss research.

Since the Princeton campus is a “no drone zone,” the photo required Starkman to don safety harness and vest, climb into a snorkel lift, rise 50 or so feet above ground, and somehow get more than 400 scientists lined up for the shot. In the background is Princeton’s Alexander Hall, where the conference was held. Princeton University’s Lucy Weise and conference co-organizer and physicist Charles Skinner helped with planning the shoot. Princeton’s Facilities Department provided the lift.

“It was a hot day, and I was the only thing between them and a drink of water,” Starkman said. “I think they couldn’t get shade and go to the next activity without posing first.”

Starkman got the shot using a Sony A7RII camera and FE Telephoto 22 lens, shooting at F-22 at 1/160, ISO 1,000. The website of ITER, the large fusion energy device under construction in France, used the photo on its web site to illustrate the conference (https://www.iter.org/newsline/-/3060).

“Elle is one of the most innovative and talented photographers I've ever met,” said Andrew Zwicker, head of Communications and Public Outreach at PPPL. “From photographing a large group of people to taking a photo of a glowing plasma with small suspended particles surrounded by shiny stainless steel walls, Elle is a master of not just the technical nature of such a complicated shot, but of the aesthetics that make it interesting and draws the viewer into not just the image, but the research behind it.”

This is the latest award for Starkman, whose main focus is photographing the science of fusion energy and the people who work on it. She previously won a CASE Gold medal for Excellence in Photography and a first place in Princeton University’s Art of Science competition.

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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