January 24, 2024

Science on Saturday Lecture Series Begins Jan. 27 at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab

SCIENCE SATURDAYS: The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory will host a series of six free presentations on cutting-edge scientific topics presented by world-leading experts starting January 27, as part of the Ronald E. Hatcher Science on Saturday lecture series for the science-curious of all ages. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory)

By Donald Gilpin

Want to learn from expert scientists about the issues making headlines around the world including clean energy solutions? AI art? Natural ways to fight viruses? The story of fusion ignition? Creating quantum technologies and diamonds?

Science on Saturday, now in its 39th year, will return on January 27 at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory PPPL), with the first of a series of six free talks, including presentation and Q&A, running from 9:30 to 11 a.m. each Saturday.

The opening session of the Ronald E. Hatcher Science on Saturday lecture series will feature Rutgers University Computer Sciences Professor Ahmed Elgammal on the controversial topic of “Art in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.” Elgammal is the founder and director of the Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Rutgers.

“We’ve seen AI and its impact on our society becoming one of the most important issues confronting our world,” said program host Andrew Zwicker, who is the head of strategic relationships at PPPL.

“AI has gained significant attention and popularity in recent years due to advancements in machine learning and generative algorithms,” wrote PPPL Science Education Program Manager Deedee Ortiz in an email. “It has also generated some of the most beautiful art out there. Artists and technologists are constantly pushing the boundaries of what AI can achieve, and I am curious to know where this could go.”

Funded by the DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences program, the series is aimed at promoting science literacy among the public, with enthusiastic audiences ranging in age from 9 to 99, according to Ortiz. “For the longest time we’ve had our regulars who’ve been with us for more than 20 years, and they bring their families that we’ve seen grow up,” she said. “The post-COVID world gave us the gift of access to audience members all over the globe, and I cannot wait to meet the new friends we make this year.”

Zwicker anticipates audiences of “hundreds in person and hundreds more online” for this year’s events. “It’s such a joy to offer such an amazing lineup of scientists, and we always look forward to seeing our regulars and new audience members,” he said.

Presentations continue on Saturday mornings through February into the first two weeks of March: Montclair State University Biology Professor Sandra Daise Adams on “Natural Products as Antivirals” on February 3; Jesse D. Jenkins, Princeton University assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center of Energy and the Environment on “The Pathway to Achieve a Net-zero Economy in the U.S. by 2050” on February 10; Wei Peng, Princeton University assistant professor of public and international affairs and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment on “Decarbonizing the Energy System for a Cleaner and Healthier Future” on February 17; David Schlossberg, experimental physicist at the National Ignition Facility, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on “The Remarkable Story of Fusion Ignition at the National Ignition Facility” on March 2; and Alastair Stacey, managing principal research physicist, applied materials and sustainability, of the PPPL on “Using Plasma to Create Quantum Technologies and Diamonds” on March 9.

“Our science-curious audience will love each and every talk and speaker,” said Ortiz. “Our audience members look forward to something fun and enriching to do on a cold Saturday morning, and we are here for all of it.”

Zwicker added, “To be surrounded by people of all ages who are curious about science and to be able to host these events is such a privilege. I’m excited to kick off the event on Saturday. It’s going to be fun.”

The Science on Saturday series is named to honor Ronald E. Hatcher, beloved PPPL engineer who hosted the series for many years before his sudden death in 2014.

Science on Saturday participants should plan to arrive early for coffee and doughnuts, and all adult visitors should have a photo ID, such as a passport or license, to show at the security booth. Visit pppl.gov/events/science-saturday for more information.