Prof. Ian Hutchinson (left) and graduate student Norman Cao respond online to questions posed over Reddit, as updated questions and responses appear on the large screens at the front of the Alcator C-Mod control room.

Paul Rivenberg

PSFC invites the public to “Ask Me Anything”

Paul Rivenberg  |  PSFC

Bring it on! That was the spirit with which the Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) answered questions about fusion during a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session on October 20. The lively Q&A was inspired by curiosity about MIT’s fusion experiment, Alcator C-Mod, which, on its final day of operation, broke a world record for plasma pressure.

The achievement has piqued the interest of news sources from Nova to the UK’s Daily News. On the morning of the Reddit AMA, MIT’s President Reif spoke on CBS This Morning about the fusion breakthrough in relation to MIT’s clean energy focus.

PSFC research scientists, postdocs, graduate students, and faculty gathered in the Alcator C-Mod control room for several hours to coordinate answering questions that were already crowding the Reddit site. Participants asked about a range of topics, including the underlying science and engineering, the funding situation, the pace of progress, the environmental safety and impact of a fusion reactor, and power production.  Students asked about how to become a fusion researcher, and a teacher about how to help high school students better understand what fusion is. Still others wanted specifics about key plasma parameters – temperature, density, and pressure.

In the control room, members of the PSFC team chose different questions to answer, coordinating their efforts so as not to duplicate them.  Graduate student Alex Tinguely, on Reddit for the first time, noted, “I had a lot of fun hanging out in the control room, everyone shouting which questions they were answering, and working together to come up with good answers.”

Graduate students Adam Kuang (foreground, seated) and Alex Creely collaborate on an incoming question, while fellow student Norman Cao and Prof. Ian Hutchinson (back) focus on answering their own selected questions.

Graduate student Alex Creely was also impressed with the collegial atmosphere, and with the types of questions asked. “I think it was great that we got such a variety, from very general questions (coming from high-schoolers and the public) to highly technical questions (coming from engineers and graduate students).  It was a good way to connect to a wide audience all at the same time, and to practice explaining our research on a range of levels.”

Together the team answered most of the 80 questions and follow-ups submitted, receiving 169 comments.

A complete record of the session can be found at this Reddit link.


Topics: Magnetic fusion energy, Alcator C-Mod tokamak