Plasma physicist and innovative science educator Arturo Dominguez is PPPL’s new head of Science Education

Arturo Dominguez, a plasma physicist and innovative science education leader at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) for nearly 10 years who is known for his enthusiasm and passion for teaching students and the public about plasma science and fusion energy, has been appointed head of PPPL’s Science Education Office.

Dominguez will succeed Andrew Zwicker, who was head of Science Education for 18 years and will remain head of PPPL’s Communications and Public Outreach Department, which includes both Science Education and Communications.

“I could not be more delighted to have Arturo lead our Science Education programs,” Zwicker said. “I am confident that Arturo will do a great job leading the team. He is an outstanding physicist and science educator whose efforts to educate the public and future scientists about plasma and fusion and whose work in equity, diversity and inclusion has had an impact on our program and nationwide.”

Dominguez will lead Science Education’s efforts in science education, workforce development and equity, diversity and inclusion. He said he was looking forward to working with colleagues Deedee Ortiz, Science Education program manager, and Shannon Swilley Greco, senior program leader. “I am humbled,” he said. “I am very excited about it and I really look forward to continuing the work that this team has engaged in for years. “

Dominguez credits Zwicker with establishing a strong science education program. “Andrew has built a program that has been at the forefront of outreach, of workforce development, and always with a sense of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Dominguez said. “What I’ve really focused on over the last few years is developing really strong ties with the rest of the U.S. plasma and fusion community.”

Dominguez joined the Laboratory in 2012 after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a degree in experimental plasma physics. He was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia, and began his college education at the National University of Colombia before moving to the United States to continue his college education at the University of Texas at Austin where he received a bachelor’s degree in physics with honors.

Developed online introductory course in plasma physics and fusion

Among other accomplishments, Dominguez developed the plasma physics and fusion energy online introductory course that kicks off summer internships. When the in-person course switched to a live remote workshop in 2020 and 2021, the course attracted 10 times the usual number of participants, with more than 400 students from all over the country tuning into the course.

Dominguez along with Professor Steffi Diem, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are co-leaders of the recently formed U.S. Fusion Outreach Team. The group is an outgrowth of the US Burning Plasma Organization and was originally led by Cami Collins, a plasma physicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In 2019, Dominguez and Diem assumed co-leadership of the group and focused its efforts on addressing the concerns laid out in a report by the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics (APS-DPP) stemming from a two-year strategic planning process. The report recommended finding ways to make it easier for the public to access information about the importance of fusion energy as a clean, affordable and plentiful source of electric energy.

Dominguez and Diem, with the help of website editor Harry Kelso and the U.S. Fusion Outreach Team, a grassroots organization composed of plasma scientists and communicators from around the country, launched a new website to provide information about fusion energy, U.S. Fusion Energy. Dominguez said he believes it’s important to promote fusion energy, to emphasize the benefits of plasma physics in areas such as the semiconductor industry, and to attract young people to consider careers in plasma physics and fusion energy. “I’ve always been very focused on what the U.S. fusion and plasma community can do as a whole together,” Dominguez said. “My mentality is always ‘A rising tide lifts all ships.’ We need to sell sell fusion and plasma physics as a whole, and let the general public understand some of the great benefits of fusion and of plasma physics.”

Co-founded new internship

Dominguez and Diem also launched a pilot program, the Plasma and Fusion Undergraduate Research Opportunities (PFURO) program (see story here), which began last summer with students doing research from their homes. The program offers undergraduates internships in which students can do plasma physics and fusion research at institutions all over the U.S. PFURO is managed by PPPL and the U.S. Fusion Outreach Team and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences.

“It’s inspiring to see the number of students who are in this field because of Arturo,” Diem said. “I always love working with Arturo because I know we’re going to get something innovative, creative and new to engage the public and grow a diverse workforce capable of solving challenging problems in our field.”

Dominguez said he has learned a lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion over the past several years. He is a founding member of the DPP’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Organizing Collective Committee, which hosted numerous DEI events at the APS-DPP conference in November.

At PPPL, Dominguez has worked closely with Barbara Harrison, equity, diversity and inclusion business partner, and his colleagues Shannon Greco, senior program leader, and Deedee Ortiz, Science Education program manager, on making PPPL’s internships and other programs more diverse. He gave a series of lectures at historical black colleges in Alabama and at universities and colleges in Puerto Rico to encourage more diverse applications to PPPL’s internships and other programs.

A workshop for underrepresented students

Dominguez also established the Undergraduate Workshop in Plasma Physics (see story here) which he has co-led with graduate student Laura Zhang in recent years. The workshop is aimed at giving underrepresented students, including Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ+ and women, an introduction to plasma physics and encouraging them to pursue internships that could lead to a career in plasma physics. Another program, the Minority Serving Institutions Faculty Workshop in Plasma Physics, trains instructors at minority serving institutions to use hands-on experiments to teach students about plasma physics.

Dominguez and others also developed the platform for the Remote Glow Discharge Experiment (RGDX) at PPPL, a hands-on remote experiment that students can access from anywhere in the world. The Science Education staff likes to boast that the program has been accessed from every corner of the world. RGDX was among 10 winners chosen last year by an international science committee, the Falling Water World Science Summit, as a cutting-edge digital education technology (see story here).

Developing a table-top stellarator

Dominguez is also among a team of scientists working on a table-top stellarator that uses permanent magnets that is called the m-Stellarator Experiment or MUSE. He originally worked with Michael Zarnstorff, chief PPPL scientist and former deputy director for research, on the idea of a moveable tabletop stellarator that could be used for science education. Dominguez remains involved in the project, which is now spearheaded by Zarnstorff and graduate student Tony Qian and is now being built as a stationary scientific experiment.

Dominguez lives in Montgomery, New Jersey, with his wife Carolina Pabon-Escobar, an industrial designer, their son Alejandro, 4, and dog Trufa. They enjoy salsa dancing, and they travel to Colombia whenever they can.

Dominguez said he is happy he has found his calling in life. “I think I’m very lucky to be doing what I’m doing,” Dominguez said. “I’m aware this is not a very typical path for a fusion Ph.D. but I’m glad I took it.”

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