Amelia Chambliss, a recent U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship student at PPPL, is passionate about fusion energy and equally passionate about the importance of ensuring that diverse young people like herself get the opportunity to enter the plasma physics and fusion energy fields. She got to discuss both topics as a panelist at the White House summit on fusion energy on March 17.
“To know that this is just the first of many conversations moving forward is just incredibly inspiring,” Chambliss said the day after she participated in a panel on “Energy Justice and Public Engagement” at the White House summit on “Developing a Bold Decadal Vision for Commercial Fusion Energy.” You can view a clip of her remarks before the panel here,)
Chambliss joined Steve Cowley, PPPL director, at the summit, which brought together fusion leaders from the White House, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), national laboratories, Congress, academicians, and private industry.
“It’s great to see from the very beginning that environmental justice, equity and diversity are key parts of the conversation, not just footnotes, but full panel discussions in this first conversation we’re all having together about fusion energy,” Chambliss said. “That means a lot to me, coming from my background, from a mixed-race family that was low income.”
Chambliss is originally from Pacific Grove, California, and graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in the spring of 2020. She completed two SULI internships at PPPL in the summer of 2020 and the spring of 2021 working from home online. After graduation, she continued to help physicists David Gates, Michael Zarnstorff and Caoxiang Zhu with research on a new concept for a fusion device: the permanent magnet stellarator, in which traditional electromagnetic coils with complex shapes are replaced by permanent magnets. Chambliss is attending Columbia University in the fall to begin her studies towards a Ph.D. in plasma physics.
Chambliss drew kudos from Geraldine Richmond, DOE undersecretary for science and innovation, who gave closing remarks at the event. Richmond noted Chambliss was one of 1,000 SULI students working at national laboratories last year through the DOE program, which is funded by the Workforce Development for Teachers and Sciences program. "It’s so wonderful to hear from the future generation of fusion researchers," Richmond said. "We wish Amelia great luck in her graduate studies at Columbia."
Chambliss said her interest in fusion energy was sparked by doing a plasma experiment as an undergraduate in which students created a glowing plasma in a vacuum chamber. The equipment was sent to the college from PPPL by Arturo Dominguez, PPPL’s head of Science Education, through PPPL’s Minority Serving Institution Faculty Workshop in Plasma Physics. “If Dr. Dominguez hadn’t shipped that tube of glass to Reed College, I might not know what a stellarator is,” Chambliss said during the panel discussion. “It’s one of the concepts in magnetic fusion that might get us to the clean energy point.”
Educating the public about fusion energy in terms people can understand is essential, Chambliss added. “I think there are a bunch of different ways we could talk about a stellarator, and there are fancy words we can use like 'neo-classical transport' or 'rotational transform,' but at the end of the day we can just say to students, ‘We are using these really crazy twisty coils that form a really strong magnetic field and we are using that to trap star stuff and we are using that star stuff to solve one of the greatest problems that humanity has ever faced and that's climate change,’” she said. “And if you say that the right way, who doesn't want to do that for work every day?"
VIDEO: Amelia Chambliss answers question about involving diverse voices in the fusion community
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.
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, visit https://energy.gov/science