Newswise — Graduate physics students from across the country recently descended on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) for the first PPPL Graduate Summer School — a series of lectures the week of Aug. 13 on topics in the field of plasma physics and an opportunity to meet other students with similar research interests. “The objective was to bring graduate students from all over the country to the Lab so we could share some of what goes on here with them,” said Arturo Dominguez, PPPL’s science education senior program leader who led the event. “It was also an opportunity for them to share their research with us.”

The 18 students were in their first or second years of doctoral physics and engineering programs at institutions including Seton Hall University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Wisconsin, Bryn Mawr College, and West Virginia University. During the summer session, they participated in three mini-courses on turbulence, magnetic reconnection, and diagnostics that were also live-streamed on the internet. They gave oral presentations on their research throughout the week and took part in a poster session showcasing their interests.

For some students, the summer school program opened up opportunities for future partnerships. “Speaking with researchers at PPPL has helped illuminate current problems existing across the community along with potential areas for future collaboration,” said Abhilash Mathews, a graduate student at MIT who is studying how to use machine learning techniques, a form of artificial intelligence, to improve the confinement of plasmas in doughnut-shaped fusion reactors known as tokamaks. “The organizers and speakers were all very kind, and my time in Princeton was certainly a memorable one.”

Carlos Cartagena-Sanchez, one of only two scientists studying plasma physics at Bryn Mawr College, relished being part of a larger plasma physics community. “This summer I went from interacting with at most three plasma physicists to being surrounded by plasma physicists,” he said. “The greatest part of the program, though, was bringing together graduate students whose research topics would not typically overlap.”

PPPL director Steven Cowley said it was “delightful to meet the students and to hear about their research. I learned a lot and I expect we will see much more of these talented young researchers. We must make this a regular program.”

Dominguez is working on that. He plans to meet with the summer school lecturers in the coming weeks and to review feedback from the students to decide what to improve for future sessions. “Though this was only the inaugural session, I think it was a success,” he said. “The students were generally very engaged with the topics, eager to present their work, and interested in meeting possible collaborators. We hope that this is the first of many summer schools.”

This program was supported by the DOE’s Office of Science (Fusion Energy Sciences).

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