More than 800 scientists. Nearly 5,000 students.
That’s how many people are involved in what ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer has called “the most inspired contest on the planet.”
In March, actor Alan Alda wrote a provocative editorial in the renowned journal Science. The title of his column, “The Flame Challenge,” described how he, as an 11-year-old, stared at a candle flame and wondered what it was. He wasn’t looking for overly simple answers – he wanted a step-by-step style of conversation that would lead to understanding. When he queried one teacher he thought he could approach, he received a disappointing answer. “What’s a flame?” he asked. “Oxidation,” she said. Many decades later, he sees this continuing failure to properly communicate science as a society-wide problem.
For years, he has been doing his part to address that problem by hosting “Scientific American Frontiers” on public television. In the show, Alda interviews scientists about their work, helping them explain their research to intelligent non-scientists. Now, as a member of the faculty at the Center for Communicating Science at the State University of Stony Brook on Long Island, Alda has launched his own experiment. He announced the Flame Challenge contest (http://flamechallenge.org) in Science, asking scientists, educators, and students to submit short videos, essays or effective communications by any other means to explain the simple question he asked as a boy.
Andrew Zwicker, a physicist at PPPL who heads science education, came up with a version of the answer, working with Aliya Merali. You can view it here:
Submissions, which were due on April 2, have poured in from all over the world. According to a story on the website of the Center for Communicating Science, participants submitted 822 entries from the U.S. and 30 other countries. The entries range from a sentence to tomes and from poetry – one poem is written in the shape of a flame – to live-action videos with special effects. Once volunteer scientists screen the submissions for accuracy, the entries are being sent to schools where 11-year-olds at more than 130 schools will judge them. The finalists will be posted on flamechallenge.org, and the winner will be announced at the World Science Festival in New York, New York in early June.
– Kitta MacPherson
Let it snow! Scientists at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory are using a novel device called a “snowflake divertor” to keep superhot gases from damaging the walls of a nuclear reactor during experiments to develop a safe, clean and virtually limitless fuel for producing electric power.
The program runs January through March, and is free and open to the public. Lectures begin promptly at 9:30 AM. Click here for the Science on Saturday 2012 schedule.
By John DeLooper
Today, Friday is the end of the conference. The last session concludes at about 12:30 p.m. There will be some additional satellite meetings but most folks will be leaving today and tomorrow (if we can get out with the expected snow storm…)
This was the second day of the Plasma Expo. It takes a lot of effort to get the students to this event. Teachers need to make the arrangements including organizing bus transportation and collecting permission slips. The plasma educators from the various laboratories arrange and run the Plasma Expo. In addition to the exhibitors, there are a number of individuals greeting the bus and escorting the students into the exhibit hall. They are the unsung heroes of the Plasma Expo! They help make sure that we track the students through the convention center.
More than 1,000 students attended the Expo today. As usual, our volunteers did a superb job. It’s not always easy explaining plasma to a middle school student and how the plasma in a fluorescent tube can be 10,000 degrees. It’s always wonderful when you see the look of amazement on a student’s face when he or she sees something unusual (like crushed marshmallows or a Jacob’s ladder) and absorbs the scientific message. That makes our day.
Although the conference ended at 12:30 p.m., our Expo went beyond, til 2 p.m. At the conclusion, we took down our display, packaged our exhibit materials, and placed them on skids. Our graduate students helped the Science Education staff to dismantle the display. Although we try to mimic the great work our shipping folks did in sending the material to us, we hope that the skids get back to the lab safely…. we’ll know in about a week!
My thanks to the Science Education staff, our scientists, post-docs, and graduate students for all of their help in a successful educational outreach effort!
–John DeLooper is the head of outreach and best practices at PPPL.
Plasma Expo: More 1,400 learn about the fourth state of matter
By John DeLooper
Today is the first day of the plasma expo. Over 1,400 students, both middle and high school, attended. Students visited each of the various exhibitors. In some cases they came to learn more about plasmas and fusion. In other cases they had specific questions that they had to answer. We supply these questions to the teachers so that they can make sure their student does go to each exhibitor. Students typically spend an hour and half visiting the exhibits.
The expo starts at 8:30 a.m. and goes to 2 p.m. Although the science education staff arranges the set up, the real key to our success are the scientists, post docs and graduate students who staff the exhibit and explain the plasma exhibits to the students. Without their help, this would never be as effective and impactful for the students. For their service we are very grateful. The pictures reflect the expo as it evolves. Sometimes we are waiting for students and then we are very busy. At one time during the morning there were six individuals behind the table talking to more than 24 students at the same time. It is pretty hectic during those time frames.
During the day, the scientific meeting continues with presentations and poster sessions.
We reopened the exhibit for the public in the evening between 6 and 8 PM. This allows teachers and parents to bring their students who couldn’t come during the day as well as anyone else who would like to attend. Attendance varies widely from each meeting and the city it is located in. The exhibitors run a pool to guess the number of visitors we’ll have in the evening session which was so congratulations to Tom from Oak Ridge and Aliya from Princeton who shared the $18 pool!
After the evening plasma expo a number of exhibitors moved up the block to see the choir rehearsal of the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The choir practice is every Thursday evening between 8:00 and 9:30 p.m. It is open and free to the public. The choir consists of 360 individuals supported by a full orchestra and a pipe organ that has more than 11,600 pipes. This was very impressive.
Tomorrow is another expo day and then we get to pack up and go home.
–John DeLooper is the head of outreach and best practices for PPPL
By John DeLooper
(Reporting from the American Physical Society meeting this week in Salt Lake City)
PPPL’s Plasma Expo display: The calm before the storm
Today was a relatively easy day. Stephanie Wissel, Aliya Merali, Deedee Ortiz and I set up the PPPL booth for the Plasma Expo which will happen Thursday, Nov. 17. This involves unpacking two pallets of supplies containing more than 600 pounds of materials and setting up our display (as shown in the photo) and building the plasma displays we will use to teach students about plasma, the fourth state of matter. We are expecting more than 1,200 students each day. In addition, we will open the display to the public on Thursday evening.
While staff from PPPL and other research centers – including General Atomics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Nevada Test site, University of Wisconsin, and ITER—worked to set up displays, the meeting continued with presentations and posters sessions.
This evening the banquet will occur. The featured speaker will be Alan Nathan who will speak on the Physics of Baseball. But the more important item will be the announcement of the winners of the student poster competition.
Here are the winners, out of 76 contenders:
• “Study of Sheath Potential and Plasma Density Profiles in the Presence of Strong Secondary Electron Emission from Walls” by Huy-Sinh Trung, University of Virginia, research conducted at PPPL.
• “Breaking the Four-fold Symmetry in the Paul Trap Simulator Experiment”, Stewart Koppel, University of Texas at Austin, research conducted at PPPL.
• “Simulation of Shear Alfen Waves in LAPD using the BOUT++ code”, Di Wei, University of Denver, research conducted at UCLA.
• “Ramifications of Driven Spontaneous Flow and Turbulent Transport on Cross-correlation Functions in the Large Plasma Device”, Giovanni Rossi, UCLA, research conducted at UCLA.
• “Oscillation Modes of a Relativistic Drifting Cold Plasma”, Michael Meyers, Drake University, research conducted at Los Alamos.
• “Optimization of Neutron Activation of Carbon at the NIF, Danae Polsin and Megan Russ”, SUNY Geneseo.
It is also important to recognize the mentors for the 76 posters. Each student had one or more mentors who devoted 10 weeks of time and effort. This is critical—it’s how we bring new scientists into the research world.
–John DeLooper is the head of outreach and best practices at PPPL
By John DeLooper
The morning started very early. I got to visit with my fellow hotel guests at about 1:15 a.m. when the fire alarm went off – no fire, just a false alarm. Today is an outreach day. We have more than 60 teachers here. After an introduction, they attended a workshop to cover the basics of plasma – our Plasma 101 course. It is given by three individuals – the groups are broken up into middle school teachers, high school and advanced high school. I presented the middle school session using PowerPoint slides, movies, and hands-on demos. There were 33 teachers in the session with several visitors (folks who help run the Teacher’s Day event, including Deedee Ortiz from the PPPL Science Education group). Workshop topics included– cosmology, fusion demonstrations for the classroom, the electromagnetic spectrum, light and nature of matter, understanding Newton’s laws, and Stars: Plasma physics in the sky. Here, teachers learn about the electromagnetic spectrum in a lecture by Rick Lee from General Atomics.
All of the teachers have lunch with one or two scientists at each table. These are scientists who are attending the conference.
Teachers ask questions and learn. A couple of gifts are given away – three $50 coupons to buy supplies, a couple of plasma balls and some money to buy a lighting fixture. The fixture will be used to hold a half-coated fluorescent lamp given to the teachers by the Coalition for Plasma Science. It is part of a goodie bag of information and supplies given to the teachers at the end of the day. Teachers will also have an opportunity to bring their students to the plasma expo which will be held on Thursday and Friday.
This afternoon the educational poster session occurred. This allows students who have worked at the Laboratory or another research organization to present their results to the scientific community. Thirty-one students supported by PPPL programs presented their research at this poster session. In addition, three of our PPPL science educators presented posters on our work – Andrew Zwicker, Stephanie Wissel and Aliya Merali. The students’ posters are judged by scientists (the students don’t know who is judging) and the best are recognized in a student appreciation session at 6 p.m. (Just another long but worthwhile day at APS!)
In addition to these activities, there was another full day of technical sessions, posters and other meetings conducted through the day.
–November 15, 2011
John DeLooper is the head of outreach and best practices at PPPL
By John DeLooper
Welcome to the 53rd Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics being held in Salt Lake City, Utah. This meeting is the biggest meeting in the U.S. for scientists to report their results when it comes to plasma science and fusion energy results. Over 1,650 individuals are here from around the world to give presentations and review information with their colleagues through poster sessions.
The meeting days are long. Today we started at 8 a.m. with a review talk. Then the meeting breaks up into sessions. This morning, there were three presentation sessions, a poster session and a mini-conference on geospace plasmas. One of the morning sessions was on the National Spherical Torus Experiment at PPPL. The room was filled with over 250 individuals while presentations were made by NSTX team members (both PPPL staff as well as a number of our collaborators).
This afternoon there was another session starting at 2 p.m. and going to 5 p.m. Then there was another meeting and presentation by the University Fusion Association that started at 7 p.m. Ed Synakowski, the Head of the US DOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences made one of the presentations at this meeting.
This is very different from any other meetings I’ve attended. Everything is timed and listed in the program. So individuals may listen to one presenter in a particular session and then move to another session to specifically listen to another author. So it is not uncommon for fifty or so individuals to move after a particular presentation. The program book listing all of the talks and posters seems to weigh about 4 pounds!
Today is also a day of preparation. Tomorrow, we will be hosting teachers from the local school district for a day of professional development to learn about plasmas. I make a presentation to middle school teachers on plasma 101 and fusion energy. So today we have to find all of the supplies we shipped and get the material ready for teachers day. The wonderful news was our supplies had arrived and after checking them and moving them into my “classroom” everything worked after a few minor repairs.
— November 14, 2011
John DeLooper is head of outreach and best practices at PPPL