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A Visit to Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

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Yesterday we went to the open house at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).  I had never heard of this and Paul was vague on what it was. When I think plasma I think blood, but that is not the case here.  This is a U.S. Dept. of Energy site.  It’s a very large campus (though very small compared to the other energy sites, I learned) with huge buildings surrounded by pleasant woods. This was fascinating for so many reasons. First, I’m kind of a nosy person and I like just seeing other people’s workplaces.  And although this was open to the public, you were basically walking around someone’s work place–and what a workplace it is! Whiteboards with equations and charts all over them, published articles hung up and shared, etc. This is a facility where brilliant people are engaged in, to my mind, the most futuristic scientific experiments exploring matter, fusion, and energy.  And yet, the buildings are from the 1950s and it’s all quite industrial looking.
Super Advanced Technologies and Theories in a rather old-fashioned building

Lots of fascinating gears and valves and pipes everywhere
So what they have there is the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX), which is presently undergoing a $94million upgrade.
This is the main huge experiment there, which I cannot explain

This is the main huge experiment there, which I cannot explain
They also do lots of other research and experiments and its managed by Princeton University.  This was one of the nicest, most well managed events I’ve ever been to. Friendly staff and volunteers everywhere, free refreshments (most welcome on a hot day), well organized, a scavenger hunt for kids, and many activities that were suitable and engaging and fun for children.  I have to admit that even though the scientists were surely presenting their information about plasma and fusion in a general public friendly way, I found it pretty difficult to understand.

Outside they had a bit of a touch-a-truck thing going on in the parking lot with stuff about fire safety.  PPPL has its own fire department on site.
Practicing with a fire extinguisher
Nothing to do with plasma, but fun for the kids-running across a mixture of cornstarch and water. we can’t wait to try this at home!
Running across "oobleck" (cornstarch & water)
We were all fascinated by the water jet cutter, which they had in their gigantic on-site machine shop. Jets of water precision cutting metal! (for the open house they had key chains cut out for everyone)
Water Jet Cutter-this machine is using water with a fine grit to cut precision metal

The water jet cut out key chains for everyone

Fun science experiments were a big hit, such as playing with static electricity:

We really had a great time. Science is real and cool, even if, as Paul says, it all comes down to poo…
Paul, "everything comes down to poo"

About Sarah

I'm a librarian living with my lovely family in a gorgeous spot of New Jersey, where we raise chickens and love the outdoors. I try to find enough time to indulge all my hobbies-cooking, photography, gardening, sewing, and I write about it all on my book blog & personal blog.

2 responses »

  1. I think that you should compile a ‘staycation’ travel guide. You do so many amazing and fun things with your kids!

    • thank you! Maybe I’ll add a page to my blog with all our staycation ideas. You know, one year we did that-took a week in the summer and planned out every day with something awesome. It was one of the most fun vacations we’ve had!


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