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Ronald E. Hatcher Science on Saturday Lecture Series kicks off Jan. 9

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory will ring in the New Year with the start of its popular Ronald E. Hatcher Science on Saturday Lecture Series on Saturday, Jan. 9 at 9:30 a.m.

For more than 30 years, the lecture series has attracted hundreds of science enthusiasts ranging from high school students to retirees, who climb out of bed early on cold winter mornings to hear lectures from top scientists from Princeton University and around the country.

The nine-week free lecture series was renamed “The Ronald E. Hatcher Science on Saturday Lecture Series,” last year in honor of the late PPPL engineer who spent 20 years organizing the series and serving as the unofficial master of ceremonies.

“We invite professors and scientists from all over the country to talk about some of their amazing projects and discuss a broad variety of topics from stars to the ocean and in between,” said Deedee Ortiz, the Science Education program administrator, who organizes the series. “There’s a lot to learn from them!”

The talks are aimed at high school students but the series attracts many loyal followers of every age. Some have been coming to the lecture series since it began, and who faithfully come to Science on Saturday each week. “Folks look forward to this series all year long,” Ortiz said. “ I get phone calls in August asking if we’re going to run the series the following year!”

The first lecture in the series by astronomer Alan Hirshfeld, “Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe," will focus on the history of modern astronomy culminating in Edwin Hubble’s 1929 discovery that the Universe is expanding. Hirshfeld, a professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and an associate of the Harvard College Observatory, is author of a book with the same name as the lecture (New York Literary Press, 2014). He has written numerous other books, including “Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos,” (Dover Books on Astronomy, 2013).

This year’s lecture series features several scientists from a variety of fields at Princeton University. The second lecture on Jan. 16, for example, will be by former Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman. She will discuss “The Wild and Wacky World of Epigenetics.” Epigenetics is the study of how genes can be switched on and off by factors in the environment or other external factors rather than an individual’s DNA sequence.

Among the other topics is a talk on Iran’s nuclear program by Frank von Hippel. A senior research physicist and professor of public and international affairs emeritus, Hippel was assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1993 to 1994.

On March 5, Ed Synakowski, the associate director of the Office of Science, for Fusion Energy Sciences at the U.S. Department of Energy and a former physicist at PPPL, will discuss fusion energy in his talk “Reimagining the Possible: Scientific Transformations Shaping the Path Towards Fusion Energy.”

Go to the Science Education webpage to learn about other events. A complete schedule is available here.

You can also watch the lecture series live from home here: https://mediacentral.princeton.edu/id/1_wdp1m3et.

The lectures begin at 9:30 a.m. at PPPL, 100 Stellarator Road, Princeton, off Sayre Drive. (Directions are available here.

Visitors should plan to come early because seats fill up quickly. The doors open at 8:15 a.m. and there will be refreshments for early birds. (There is no lecture on Feb. 20 due to the Department of Energy’s New Jersey High School Science Bowl®).  Parking is free.

No pre-registration is required but visitors will register on site. PPPL is a federal facility and is currently taking heightened security measures. Adult visitors should be prepared to show a government-issued photo ID, such as a passport or driver’s license. Non-U.S. citizens must show a photo ID and provide the following information: citizenship, date of birth, and place of birth.

If Science on Saturday is canceled due to inclement weather or other emergency a message will be left on the Science on Saturday Hotline at  (609) 243-2121.

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. Results of PPPL research have ranged from a portable nuclear materials detector for anti-terrorist use to universally employed computer codes for analyzing and predicting the outcome of fusion experiments. 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.


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Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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