The GEM scholarship opens a new path to potential research careers

Newswise – The first two GEM Fellows from the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab are not coming to the Plasma Physics Graduate Programs Lab as you might expect. Promise Adebayo-Ige is working on a doctorate. in nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UT-K) while Caira Anderson is a doctoral student in computational and applied mathematics at Rice University.

Program organizers say this is precisely why PPPL chose to join the GEM national consortium, as well as other national institutions, companies and laboratories, notes Jon Menard, deputy director of research at PPPL. The aim of the GEM consortium is to support and encourage diverse students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The program gives PPPL access to a more diverse set of early career scientists from a wide range of institutions.

“It’s a very effective way to learn who else is in the wider community with the kinds of skills we need but with more diverse backgrounds, and for us to gain experience with them and the institutions from which they come could be very broad for the Lab and important for our research in general, ”said Menard.

The two GEM fellows will receive support for their graduate studies from the GEM consortium, to which PPPL contributes, and will spend the summer working on research projects with physicists from PPPL.

The GEM consortium is part of PPPL’s ​​efforts to diversify its staff and in particular its research and engineering staff, said Barbara Harrison, PPPL’s ​​equity, diversity and inclusion business partner, who along with two physicists, will supervise the scholarship holders. “It made sense to do this pipeline development,” Harrison said. “It’s the only way to grow. You cannot develop a department without a diversity of thoughts and talents.

Low representation of black and Hispanic adults and women in STEM

PPPL reflects national statistics that show that black and Hispanic adults and women are less likely to graduate in STEM subjects than in any other subject. Blacks make up 11% of the workforce, but only hold 9% of STEM jobs, while Hispanics make up 17% of the workforce but hold only 8% of all STEM jobs, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of a 2017 to 2019 US Community Survey.

Black and Hispanic representation is particularly low in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences:

  • Mathematics: 9% Black, 8% Hispanic
  • Physical Sciences: 6% Blacks, 8% Hispanics
  • IT: 8% Blacks, 7% Hispanics
  • Engineering: 5% Black, 9% Hispanic

Anderson, a graduate student in applied mathematics at Rice University, is familiar with the problem. She is one of two women of color in her department of about 30 students. Anderson said she sat on the Diversity Science Center committee as an undergraduate math and statistics major in an attempt to fix the problem. She enjoyed working as a math teacher assistant because she could support women and people of color. “So many people, especially if they are women or girls or people of different gender identities, don’t have the emotional support to encourage them to do math,” she said.

Adebayo-Ige said he was also one of two black students in his program at UT-K. “That’s why programs like GEM and even high school and college programs are important – to introduce students to these topics,” Adebayo-Ige said.

A fusion enthusiast since high school

Passionate about fusion from a young age, Adebayo-Ige already knew he wanted to work on fusion development as a high school student in Eastvale, Calif., After his older brother came home from college and he. talked about it. He did a research paper on the subject and was hooked. His summer as an undergraduate science internship (SULI) student at PPPL working in the Materials Science lab just cemented his determination. It also helped him move into the graduate program at UT-K, Adebayo-Ige said.

He said he was delighted to see PPPL appear on the list of institutions offering internships. “I am really excited to be working for PPPL,” said Adebayo-Ige. “I think the summer is going to be really good in terms of learning and advancing my science career. It’s gonna be fun.”

Adebayo Ige’s research topic is one that he will likely continue to explore for his doctoral thesis. This summer, he will work with his PPPL mentor, physicist Rajesh Maingi, and Kaifu Gan, a UT-K researcher who is on site at PPPL to work on a diagnostic for the national spherical torus upgrade experiment. of PPPL (NSTX-U), which is being repaired. It will help create analysis tools that use computer code to generate and understand data from infrared cameras that will be installed on the NSTX-U. The cameras take infrared images of the heat in and around the divertor, which serves as an exhaust system on the spherical vessel called a tokamak which contains the super hot plasma. The images will help scientists analyze heat flow, the rate at which heat reaches the surface of the divertor.

“In addition to the analysis, Promise will also learn the optics and how you design the system,” Maingi said. “This scholarship is perfectly linked to his doctorate. in infrared thermography. The GEM scholarship is an important element that allows him to relate the work he has done to the work he will do afterwards.

Inspired by the life stories of female mathematicians

Anderson knew she was good at math when she attended STEM Magnet High School in her hometown of Conyers, Georgia, outside of Atlanta. But she was also strong in the humanities and only decided to become a mathematician at university.

Anderson had a research internship where she modeled population sizes in groups of animals and decided she liked applied mathematics. She was also inspired to hear stories from female mathematicians during the internship. “Just being able to hear their life stories and see how happy they were now, how being a mathematician could actually be possible as a viable and fulfilling career path,” she recalls. “I thought it was a possibility for me.”

When she learned about PPPL’s ​​primary mission of developing fusion energy as a viable source of power generation, she made PPPL her first choice of employer as a GEM Fellow. “I was really intrigued by the whole question of nuclear fusion,” she said.

“Caira stood out because of her background in mathematics and the fact that she wanted to focus her interest and skills in mathematics on the challenges of fusion,” said Arturo Dominguez, head of the science education program, who reviewed applications with PPPL physicist Brian Grierson at the DIII -D National Fusion Facility at General Atomics in San Diego.

Anderson will work with Stuart Hudson, physicist and acting head of the theory department, on modeling a new design concept for torsion magnets on a fusion device called a stellarator. The magnetic field of each of the coils produces a force on the current of another coil which can pull the coils apart. Engineers must therefore build a support structure to hold the coils in place based on this electromagnetic force. Anderson will use mathematical analysis and advanced computational methods to study a new approach to reduce the electromagnetic force between the coils, Hudson said.

Hudson said Anderson is “a very talented and enthusiastic young scientist who has been overlooked by mainstream outreach efforts. Fusion energy is a multigenerational effort, so we need to bring in top young scientists, ”he added,“ and this GEM program expands our outreach effort to identify talented scientists who have so far. now been neglected. “

PPPL, at the Forrestal campus of Princeton University in Plainsboro, New Jersey, is dedicated to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas – ultra-hot charged gases – and developing practical solutions for creating fusion energy. The laboratory is managed by the Office of Science, Department of Energy, University of the United States, which is the largest support for basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and strives to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information visit energy.gov/Science.

About Geraldine Higgins

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