Science on Saturday at PPPL returns in person for the first time in 3 years

Written by
Jeanne Jackson DeVoe, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
Feb. 2, 2023

A science-education tradition that has captivated generations of students resumes this weekend, live and in person, with the year's first lecture of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory's Ronald E. Hatcher Science on Saturday series, presented at PPPL on Princeton's Forrestal Campus.

The series will be held in-person for the first time in three years, with an option for online viewing. The first lecture, at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, features Princeton's Yasaman Ghasempour, assistant professor of electrical and computing engineering, talking about the challenges and opportunities ahead in "The Race for 6G Wireless."

Lectures are targeted at high school-age students, with topics that range from a talk on climate change to one on a genetic variation in dogs and humans that makes them friendly, to a lecture about high-field tokamaks and fusion energy. PPPL is the Department of Energy's national laboratory for fusion science. 

“We can’t wait to be back in person,” said Andrew Zwicker, the head of strategic relationships and host of the program. “We’re so happy we can offer this great line-up of talks by cutting-edge scientists and we look forward to seeing our regulars and new audience members.”

The series is now in its 39th year, long enough that some families attending include three generations of science education fans. It’s aimed at promoting science literacy in the public and among young people. It was renamed to honor Ronald E. Hatcher after the beloved PPPL engineer who hosted the series for many years, who died suddenly in 2014. The series is funded by the DOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences

Visitors should plan to arrive at PPPL by 8:30 a.m. for coffee hour and should follow PPPL’s COVID-19 protocols, which currently require visitors to complete a brief COVID-19 health screening at the security booth. Face masks are optional. All adult visitors should have a photo ID such as a passport or license to show at the security booth. Plenty of parking is available. Visit for additional information. 

Deedee Ortiz, science education senior program leader, who organizes the lectures, said she is looking forward to being back in person and sharing coffee and bagels with the early birds. “I’ve never been more excited to make 400 cups of coffee in my life,” Ortiz joked. She said she was looking forward to seeing both new visitors and “regulars,” some of whom have been coming to the event for decades. “it’s kind of like a family reunion,” she said. “Everyone knows who the other person is and they pick up on that. To see that familiarity is heart-warming.”

Arturo Dominguez, the head of the Science Education Department, said he is impressed by the wide-ranging topics addressed by scientists in the series. “I strive to never miss these lectures myself because they’re so interesting,” Dominguez said. “You never know what you will learn!”

The full schedule is available online and below. 

Feb. 4, 9:30 to 11 a.m.: “The Race for 6G Wireless: The Challenges and Opportunities Ahead,”

Yasaman Ghasempour, assistant professor of electrical and computing engineering, Princeton University

Feb. 11, 9:30 to 11 a.m.: “Dogs and Humans with Williams Syndrome”

Bridgett von Holdt, Princeton University, will discuss her team’s 2017 discovery that dogs and humans with Williams Syndrome share a handful of genetic variants that both are connected to friendliness. This sharing goes even further where the same genes carry these variants across the two species.

Feb. 18, 9:30 to 11 a.m.: “Saving the Sonorine: An Early 20th Century Form of Voice Mail”

Adam Finkelstein, Princeton University, will discuss the sonorine, a device first marketed in France in 1905 that recorded a one-minute voice message.

March 4, 9:30 to 11 a.m.: “What’s Up with the Weather?”

Lisa Thalheimer, United Nations University, Institute for Environment and Human Security will discuss the impacts of climate change on the weather through the rising sea.

March 11, 9:30 to 11 a.m.: “High-field Tokamaks: the Fastest and Surest Path to a Fusion Energy Power Plant,”

Devon Battaglia, Commonwealth Fusion Systems and formerly of PPPL, will discuss high-field tokamaks and fusion energy.

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 single largest 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, visit