Paul Thomas, MIT

Paul Thomas, MIT's Mr. Magnet, working with graduate students on science education.

Photo: Paul Rivenberg

Remembering Paul Thomas

1942 – 2020


Paul Thomas, best known as MIT’s ‘Mr. Magnet,’ passed away on May 4 at the age of 77. By the time he retired from MIT in 2014, PSFC technical supervisor had introduced over 500,000 school children to the mysteries of magnetism with his Mr. Magnet Science Show. Here are some reflections from teachers, students and colleagues.


Paul was a brilliant researcher who translated those talents  into a passion for bringing plasma science to generations of young people by making it fun and accessible. He has inspired not only those young people but all of the plasma scientists who followed him to strive to reach a broader audience.

Dennis Whyte
Director, Plasma Science and Fusion Center
Professor, Nuclear Science and Engineering



Paul was unique in his ability to excite K-12 students and open their minds to science. One of the greatest pleasures that I had at the PSFC was watching him enchant students in the effortless way he involved them with the presentations. I often wonder how many of the 500,000 students that he reached had a life changing epiphany as a result of Paul‘s influence. More than a few no doubt! 

Ron Parker
PFC Director 1988 – 1995
Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT


I am very saddened by the passing of Paul. He was an incredible person and gave all of himself (and more) to bring science to school kids all over the state, and indeed, to the country at the APS DPP annual meetings. He is irreplaceable in many respects.

Miklos Porkolab
PSFC Director, 1995-2014
Professor of Physics, MIT




Paul was a champion for students, both graduate and undergraduate, as a supervisor and mentor.  His eagerness to help and his experience was invaluable, keeping us safe and on schedule.  His enthusiasm, good humor, and eagerness to go above and beyond energized the group.

Leslie Bromberg, Principal Research Engineer, MIT PSFC


Paul Thomas was an engineering problem solver par excellence.  He would bring our ideas and concepts to working reality in the laboratory and trouble shoot operational problems with experiments. His contributions were essential to the successful execution of these research projects.  

Paul Woskov, Senior Research Scientist, MIT PSFC


“In recognition of Paul Thomas, aka Mr. Magnet, a gifted teacher who for 18 years has transported his creative hands-on demonstrations directly to schools around New England and the U.S., sowing the seeds of curiosity and scientific discovery in young minds. Whether leading demonstrations of magnetism, energy production, superconductivity or plasma science, Paul Thomas has encouraged students to become scientists for a day so they may appreciate science for a lifetime.”

Appreciation Award from
U.S. Department of Energy




My time at the PFC (hadn’t added the “S” yet) was one of the finest memories of my life, and my escapades with Mr. Magnet were the best of that time.  Paul was equally comfortable with high schoolers and kindergarteners, and his various plasmodic machines amazed all alike.   I was honored to accompany him, and in awe of his dedication and skill.  

Mitch Crosswait, PhD ‘94
Deputy Director, Net-Centric, Space and Missile Defense Systems DOD


Mitch was one of the first students to assist Mr. Magnet with school visits

When I arrived at the PSFC as an incoming graduate student it was clear that public outreach was highly valued and this effort was led by Paul Thomas. His passion for getting students of all ages excited about science and engineering was infectious and was a great source of inspiration for me and a big reason I decided to dedicate my professional life to outreach and science education.

Arturo Dominguez, PhD ‘13
Science Education Senior Program Leader at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory



There were so many things about MIT that I enjoyed and that stay with me today.  My time with Paul travelling around the state to do the shows remains the most vivid and the most enjoyed.  I am so fortunate that I was able to do that, and I attempt to continue his efforts in some small way out here in Littleton. 

Perhaps the most meaningful part for me was that my daughters got to meet him and see his show multiple times, with Ellie even participating.  The picture of her, I believe at 7 years old, standing next to him, wearing a face mask and holding a blow torch, captured all my feelings for him and the outreach program in a nutshell.

Jeff Schachter, PhD ‘97
Vice President of Engineering at Spendata LLC



Thank you notes from schools Mr. Magnet visited


Wow! “Mr. Magnet’s Laboratory” was fantastic! The audience thoroughly enjoyed your performance and learned a lot about magnets and electricity at the same time.  At the Louisiana Children’s Museum we try to make learning interactive, fun and entertaining. Your show was definitely all three!

Katrina Reeder Turillo
Program Coordinator, Louisiana Children’s Museum


Thank you for coming to the West Elementary School.  I learned many things about magnets and electricity. I hope you come back. Mr. Magnet, when the plate was flying I wanted to ask you a question.  What would happen if there were no magnets or magnetic force in the world?

Manuel, Student, West Elm Elementary, Andover, MA


We loved the way you led students through the steps of scientific thinking by having them predict what they thought might happen and then checking back after the demonstration to verify what observations they made and would actually record if they were working on their own.

Val Cogswell Babson Community Outreach Coordinator,
Gloucester Public Schools



Our students are special because many of them have stories that are unbelievable. Some have fled from communist countries where their lives were in constant danger; some from military dictatorships that were a constant threat to their safety.  By presenting them with a special treat, we improve their quality of life and show them the very generous side of the United States.  We thank you for your help in coming to our program to increase our students' knowledge.  There were many animated discussions afterwards in the E.S.L. and G.E. D. classes!

Ariel Hoover, G.E. D. Teacher/Volunteer Coordinator, Jackson/Mann Community Adult Education Program


Thank you, thank you, thank you from the staff and students at the Bentley School for providing us the opportunity to experience the awesome demonstration with Mr. Magnet a.k.a. Paul Thomas.  In the 6 years that I have been coordinating enrichment programming at the Bentley School, I have never seen the children as excited and involved in a science presentation as they were with Welcome to my Laboratory. The teachers were so pleased with the content and expert manner in which Mr. Paul Thomas taught the kids while involving them in each experiment that he showed them. The whole program showed a truly gifted educator teaching a group of not 25 kids but 250 kids at a time.

Dorothy M. Arthur
Enrichment Coordinator, Bentley School


Cabot School has not stopped talking about “Mr. Magnet" since you were here last week!  Your “performance” left the children with a true sense of excitement about science. And by including the children in the demonstrations, you give them a hands-on experience that is memorable. 

Kiki Gross, PTA Co-president, Cabot School