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The plasma science education events at last month's American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics (APS-DPP) meeting in New Orleans, organized by MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), attracted a record number of students and teachers.
Science Teachers Day (November 17), during which teachers could learn about plasmas, fusion and related research through overviews and workshops, attracted 132 teachers. Workshops ranged from in-depth explorations of how to introduce plasmas into the high school classroom to easy interactive experiments with water to explain fluid instabilities at any grade level.
Later these teachers were encouraged to attend the scientific poster session, specifically to review education posters and to meet Carlos Kaufman, the fourth-grade student whose "Wonder Project" on fusion inspired the PSFC's own education poster (see MIT Tech Talk, November 18). Carlos attended with his family and teacher, Beverly Favreau, whose methods were featured in the poster.
Paul Rivenberg, PSFC public relations and outreach coordinator and the 1998 APS-DPP science education coordinator, noted that Carlos attracted a lot of attention.
"Between Carlos discussing how he learned about fusion, and another MIT poster across the way demonstrating the PSFC's latest plasma science video game, the aisle was sometimes impassable," he said. Carlos was especially popular with teachers who had attended Teachers Day, some of whom requested his autograph.
The Plasma Sciences Expo on November 19-20 featured an exhibit hall full of hands-on demonstrations geared to help students learn about plasmas and related science and technology.
This year approximately 3,200 students from elementary through high school attended, more than double the number at past events. The 32 exhibits included demonstrations from companies and national laboratories, such as General Atomics, Princeton's Plasma Physics Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, combined with local companies and organizations, such as NASA's Stennis Space Center.
The PSFC's Paul Thomas, also known as "Mr. Magnet," was also in New Orleans with his truck of equipment, giving demonstrations at the Expo and also at the Children's Museum and local schools throughout the week.
Mr. Rivenberg credited the success of the events to early planning and support from APS and other institutions working with plasmas, especially General Atomics. He noted that by coincidence, PSFC Director Miklos Porkolab was this year's chair-elect of APS-DPP and chair of the program committee, which created an atmosphere in which this year's educational outreach could flourish.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 9, 1998.