A Collaborative National Center for Fusion & Plasma Research

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Highlighting Syun’ichi Shiraiwa

As PPPL celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month throughout May, PPPL highlighted some of our staff and asked them to tell us about themselves and discuss what the month means to them. This is the third of a weekly series.

Q: What is your name?

A: “Syun’ichi Shiraiwa”

Q: What is your position?

A: “I have two roles: theoretical physicist in the new Computational Sciences Department where I develop computer programs that simulate plasma behavior in fusion devices, and experimental physicist developing radio-frequency heating for NSTX-U.”

Q: How long have you been at the Lab?

A: “A little over a year”

Q: What do you do at the Lab?

A: “I’m working with PPPL physicist Masayuki Ono using radio waves to heat plasma, the fourth state of matter, causing atomic nuclei to fuse and produce heat that can be harnessed to create electricity without greenhouse gasses.

I used to work on the lower hybrid current drive for Alcator C-Mod, a tokamak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, using electromagnetic waves with frequencies similar to those used in microwave ovens to create electrical currents.

I’m actually half-experimentalist and half-theory and modeling physicist. In addition to my NSTX-U work, I am in (Associate Lab Director) Bill Dorland’s new Computational Sciences Department using artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to simulate plasma-heating radio-frequency waves.”

Q: Tell us three things about yourself.


1)    “I enjoy SCUBA diving, woodworking, and playing Go.”

2)    “I love to cook.”

3)    “I’m in the process of finding a house so I can move to New Jersey. I have plans to upgrade the kitchen when I arrive!”

Q: What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

A: “Honestly, I came from Japan to the United States 10 years ago and never really thought about being an Asian American. I grew up in Osaka, studied in Tokyo, and then moved to Boston, where I have worked for the past 11 years. The lab where I worked was very international and I never felt self-conscious.

I only recently found myself thinking about my heritage. I went to a nearby store and the clerk asked me whether I felt unsafe being out and about, since there were anti-Asian sentiments circulating based on COVID originating in China. Frankly, being asked such a question felt shocking. I have been isolated from that stuff, fortunately.”

Q: What does working at PPPL mean to you?

A: “It’s a wonderful thing. I have been attracted by the idea of fusion since I was 20 years old. I had the opportunity to visit PPPL in 2000 as a visiting scientist and had a good experience. While I was at MIT, I used to wonder whether I would ever come to PPPL. And it happened!”

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