PPPL receives international recognition for platform to conduct educational experiments remotely by anyone, anywhere

Written by
Jeanne Jackson DeVoe
Nov. 24, 2020

A computer platform developed  by Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory physicist Arturo Dominguez and others that allows users all over the world to operate a real plasma experiment from their living rooms was among 10 winners chosen by an international science committee as a cutting-edge digital education technology. 

The technology was among 10 global winners in digital education technology, one of 10 categories with 10 winners each. The winners were chosen from more than 900 nominations of breakthrough technologies from 110 countries.

Dominguez and others gave digital presentations on Nov. 7 as part of the Falling Water virtual World Science Summit from Nov. 1 to 10. The conference is an annual science event in Berlin that coincides with the anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Ten “breakthrough technologies of the year” were chosen from the winning finalists. View the Falling Walls virtual digital education ceremony.

“We are very excited,” Dominguez said. He noted that the online platform is especially useful for students in the U.S. and worldwide who are doing part or all of their learning online during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This year is a particularly good year highlighting this platform because everybody’s trying to find ways to share information and to learn from one another online.”

The remote platform allows users to go online at https://www.pppl.gov/RGDX to access the Remote Glow Discharge Experiment (RGDX), which is located in the Science Education Laboratory at PPPL. Users can manipulate controls that change the pressure, voltage, and length of the device to create and manipulate a plasma in a vacuum tube. They can experimentally measure the conditions necessary to break down a gas, in this case common air, into a plasma. This experiment, one of the first done by graduate students studying plasma, has educational resources available online to make the science accessible for students of all ages and backgrounds. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences.

“Congratulations to Arturo and to the many students and staff members that have helped to develop RGDX,” said Andrew Zwicker, head of Public Outreach and Science Education. “As online scientific education becomes more important, this allows us to get advanced scientific equipment into the hands of students that don’t normally have access to this level of equipment.”

Dominguez, along with videographer Elle Starkman and Zwicker, filmed a video for the event that demonstrates how the platform is used with the RGDX. In the video, Dominguez has Marion Smedberg, a former Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) student, sign on to the RGDX from the Netherlands to create a plasma. “Here at Princeton we’re surrounded by advanced scientific equipment,” Dominguez says in the video. “With this platform we’re putting it in your hands, whether you’re a college student in the Netherlands or a 10-year-old in Bogota, Colombia.”

Dominguez has been at PPPL since 2012. Originally from Colombia, he received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After doing postdoctoral work on MIT’s Alcator C-Mod Tokamak at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at MIT, Dominguez came to PPPL where he has conducted research on dusty plasma and the development of plasma demos, particularly merging online learning tools and actual lab experiments.

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 single largest 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, visitenergy.gov/science.

PPPL is mastering the art of using plasma — the fourth state of matter — to solve some of the world's toughest science and technology challenges. Nestled on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, New Jersey, our research ignites innovation in a range of applications including fusion energy, nanoscale fabrication, quantum materials and devices, and sustainability science. The University manages the Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the nation’s single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences. Feel the heat at https://energy.gov/science and https://www.pppl.gov.