Graduate student Adam Kuang (far left) and research scientist Ted Golfinopoulos (far right) with volunteer helpers for the plasma demo at MIT’s Science on Saturday program.

Paul Rivenberg

PSFC Local Outreach Programs Follow Recent National Efforts

Paul Rivenberg  |  PSFC

Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) educational outreach activities have been on a roll. Following a successful two-day Expo at the APS-DPP meeting in Savannah, GA  students and staff have regrouped for their own local High School Outreach Day, and collaborated with the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) for a Science on Saturday presentation at Kresge Theatre.

On December 3 students and teachers from schools around Massachusetts learned about fusion and MIT’s current research at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center’s High School Outreach Day, December 3. The sixty attendees were able to tour MIT’s magnetic fusion tokamak, Alcator C-Mod and compare it to the inertial confinement science being investigated in the High-Energy-Density Physics Lab. Using a video game, they competed to confine a plasma in a virtual tokamak, and smashed liquid-nitrogen-frozen strawberries, along with flowers, broccoli and – yes – donuts. Before leaving they even initiated a plasma in a pickle, watching it glow with a signature yellow light. Many teachers travel yearly to this outreach event, noting that it supports their own high school curriculum, and helps make science research real for their students.

Susan Schmidt, a teacher from Somerville High School, asked her students to review the experience, and also provided her own feedback: “The tour of Alcator C-MOD was a great experience, as we were able to see unique and impressive engineering feats that we normally don't realize exist so close to us. I hope this research continues to be funded until we have a reliable, and virtually unlimited, energy source.”

Two days later PSFC personnel narrated and performed energy related demonstrations for MIT’s Science on Saturday program. NSE Professor Anne White introduced grad students and researchers from her department and the PSFC. Through a series of demonstrations the audience first learned about radiation, its basic properties, how it exists all around us – even in food – and its relationship to the UV light that can burn exposed skin. They discovered properties of light through a presentation about diamonds and lasers.  PSFC postdoctoral associate Ted Golfinopoulos and grad students Alex Tinguely and Adam Kuang introduced the crowd to plasmas and fusion research through a series of demonstrations that involved magnets and a glow discharge tube, culminating – like High School Outreach Day – with the plasma pickle demonstration. Observing the glowing pickle in a completely dark theatre inspired excited applause. 

Attendees were able to spend one-on-one time with the presenters after the show, getting a deeper understanding of the science presented on stage, and enjoying the opportunity to personally engage with hands-on demonstrations.

PSFC Outreach is funded by Department of Energy, Office of Fusion Energy Science, grant number DE-SC0014478.


Alex Tinguely

Learning about plasma with physics graduate student Alex Tinguely


NSE Prof. Anne White shares a video of how to create a plasma in a grape.


Studying magnetism with PSFC research scientist Ted Golfinopoulos.