Suying Jin, who is entering her sixth and planned final year as a graduate student in the Princeton Program in Plasma Physics, won Princeton University’s honorific Charlotte Elizabeth Procter Fellowship for the 2023-24 academic year. The high honor recognizes outstanding performance and professional promise among Princeton graduate students and provides full tuition and a stipend for the academic year.
Jin expressed deep appreciation on receiving the fellowship. “I feel truly honored, and I'm fortunate to be at an institution that lifts up its students in this way,” she said. “I am also deeply grateful for all the support, academic and otherwise, that has made this possible.”
The Program in Plasma Physics is based at the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and is a graduate program within the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. Graduates of the program have shaped the field of plasma physics in recent decades, working in academia, national laboratories, industry and beyond.
Spontaneously arising order
Jin’s dissertation is investigating the challenging question of how plasmas self-organize in the presence of magnetic fields. “You see it happening all the time, everywhere in the universe, where you have order spontaneously arising from turbulence or chaos,” she said. “I like to go after things that defy intuition and much about the mechanism by which this self-organization occurs remains mysterious.
When her advisor, principal research physicist Ilya Dodin, offered Jin several thesis topics to choose from, “Suying fearlessly chose the most challenging project over low-hanging fruits,” Dodin said. “She felt that although immediate rewards were not to be expected, the results of that project would be more important in the long run. I have much respect for that attitude,” he said. “Suying is an outstanding researcher and a classic role model who strongly deserves a Princeton honorific fellowship.”
Jin traces her passionate interest in plasma science to her preparation for a final exam at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she graduated in physics with honors in 2018. “I was working my way through an electrodynamics textbook, and I came across this problem that introduced me to the whole idea of plasma,” she said. “It was my first time thinking about what would happen if you had a bunch of charged particles together and it seemed like anything would be possible in a medium like that.”
While her thesis topic “is basic science and not fusion focused, ultimately, I think the fusion effort will benefit greatly from just fundamental plasma research,” she said. “There's a lot we still need to understand about plasmas, period.”
Her dedication to learning extends to teaching, which she has pursued as a teaching assistant at the graduate and undergraduate levels. She’s taught in Dodin’s graduate class in plasma waves, where “she was very proactive and did a great job,” he recalls. She also helped teach an undergraduate course in fusion and fission that has expanded her interest in real-world problems.
Her research has led to frequent peer-reviewed publications, including five papers as a first author and two as a co-author. In addition, she shares a patent disclosure with two PPPL physicists.
Outside the classroom, Jin has been an active participant in plasma programs. She was a cofounder of Princeton Women in Plasma Physics (PWiPP), whose mission includes promoting “a supportive community for women and gender minorities in plasma physics at Princeton.” She has lectured at plasma physics workshops and been a panelist and discussion leader at a local conference for undergraduate women in physics.
Tae Kwon Do
When not deeply engaged in plasma physics, Jin pursues long-time hobbies including the Korean martial art Tae Kwon Do, in which she holds a black belt and has practiced for 15 years. She also enjoys cooking and playing the piano.
Looking ahead, Jin says she would prefer a teaching job to a purely research position and sees herself “continuing down the path of academia. “I’ve had such fantastic mentors from day one when I entered this field, and I would really like to work with students to pass that mentorship along.”
The Program in Plasma Physics has graduated more than 300 students since it began in 1959.
In an environment that, over the past few decades, has seen enormous changes in the fields of plasma physics and controlled fusion, the program has consistently focused on fundamentals in physics and mathematics and on intense exposure to contemporary experimental and theoretical research in plasma physics. Learn more.
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