January 26, 2022

Science on Saturday Series Begins On Jan. 29 with First of Six Lectures

SCIENCE ON SATURDAY: Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) Director Steve Cowley discusses “The Magnetic Universe” at a past Ronald E. Hatcher Science on Saturday lecture. This year’s popular series for science enthusiasts will begin this Saturday, January 29, with a virtual talk on “New Technological Frontiers in Cities” by Princeton University Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Elie Bou-Zeid. (Photo by Elle Starkman/PPPL Office of Communications)

By Donald Gilpin

Auroras, ocean robotics, plasma physics, new technologies, molecular machines, and much more will be in the spotlight on Saturday mornings through the beginning of March, as the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) offers science fans its 38th year of presentations by cutting-edge scientists.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the program will be live online for the third year, with six 9:30 a.m. Saturday lectures, January 29 through March 12. Further information and registration are available online at pppl.gov, “Science on Saturday,” with a link for all the lectures.

“I love the variety of talks, from what cities of the future are going to look like to sending astronauts to distant planets or sending robots into the ocean to turning molecules into machines,” said PPPL Head of Communications and Public Outreach Andrew Zwicker, who will be hosting the programs. “And the science is brought down to the level where you don’t have to be an expert to understand.”

Zwicker went on to point out advantages discovered in the online format. “Though we have missed the intimacy of in-person lectures the past two years, the remote format allows people from all over the state, the country, and the world to participate. We have gained a worldwide audience.”

This year’s Ronald E. Hatcher Science on Saturday lectures will begin this week with a talk on “New Technological Frontiers in Cities” by Elie Bou-Zeid, Princeton University professor of civil and environmental engineering. On February 5, PPPL physicist Florian Laggner will discuss “Diagnosing Fusion Plasmas: How to Perform Measurements in a 100-Million Degree Environment,” followed on February 12 by Janet Iawasa of the biochemistry department of the University of Utah School of Medicine on “Animating Molecular Machines.”

After a Saturday off on February 19 due to the U.S. Department of Energy Science Bowl, Science on Saturday will resume on February 26 with a lecture by Wheaton College Professor of Physics and Engineering James Schroeder on “Answering a 40-year Riddle: Can Alfven Waves Cause Auroras?”

The series will continue on March 5 with Travis Miles of the Rutgers University Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences speaking on “Ocean Robotics for the New Blue Economy” and wrap up on March 12 with Auburn University Physics Professor Evdokiya Kostadinova lecturing on “Feeling the Heat: Fusion Plasmas Used to Study Spacecraft Heat Shields.”

The Science on Saturday series is named for PPPL engineer Ronald E. Hatcher, who hosted the series for many years before his death in 2014. Hundreds of science enthusiasts attend the lectures every year, from elementary school students to professors who have been participating for decades.

PPPL Science Education Program Manager Deedee Ortiz, who organizes the Science on Saturday series, thanked this year’s speakers and listeners and reflected on the challenges of carrying on through the pandemic.

“It has been another crazy year of ups and down, and it’s wonderful that we are still able to have a little bit of ‘normalcy’ these days with the Science on Saturday series,” said Ortiz. “Thank you to our speakers for being the absolute best for giving of their time and energy from all over the country and to our loyal and amazing audience members for sticking by us for our 38th year of talks.”