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Fusion Power in Our Future: CHS Students Attend Chatham's First Science Research Camp

By Ed Barmakian

Thursday, August 7, 2014 • 8:40pm

CHATHAM, NJ -  Dr. Sophia Gershman predicts that in 20 years there will be a practical use for fusion-produced energy fueled by plasma.

Gershman is confident that it will happen because she sees the progress first-hand as a research associate at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

"Plasma is what the sun is made of and the sun works with fusion," Gershman said. "Our motto at our plasma physics laboratory is: We make the sun on earth."

Chatham students enrolled in the first-ever Chatham STEM High School Science Research Camp this week at CHS could one day contribute research that makes fusion energy a reality.

Gershman, also a physics and research teacher at Watchung Hills Regional High, has six years of experience running this kind of camp for students. The group of 20 campers recently spent the day at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and received some hands-on experience making their own plasma.

"They learned how fusion could be used as an alternative energy source and how it works," Navina Sitaram, who organized the came for ChathamStem, said. "The camp is an introduction to research in different areas of science. During the school year STEM Science Research will operate as a club so they'll be able to independently do research projects on their own.''

Part of the process is teaching the students some fundamental rules.

"So they're beginning to get used to the idea of research and get some introduction to safety guidelines and ethical guidelines about what you can and cannot do as a high school kid doing research," Gershman said. "It's a little different framework because in a regular class the student asks a question and the teacher answers the question. Here the student asks the question and the student answers the question."

One experiment conducted by the campers involved dye-sensitized cells. They used a natural dye like raspberry juice to actually generate electrons from sunlight. They also started a genetic transformation experiment.

"We try to touch them onto experiments that have to do with the actual research field," Gershman said. "I study carbon arcs. We use them to make nano particles. Nano fibers and nano materials are used for things from drug delivery to photo cells. We are just figuring out to how to best make them and control their properties. You can make them by just lighting a fire in a fireplace. But making the right size and structure in a controlled amount is a little more difficult. And we try to do it with the least amount of energy input."

Sitaram set up the camp to expand the learning experience for CHS students, which, she hopes, they can carry on during the school year.

"The idea is to do some original research," Sitaram said. "Kids who actually do science research in school can use it to do many things. It's not just for future scientists. Skills you learn are applicable to any discipline. It teaches them independent thought and independent analysis. They learn to be resourceful when tackling a problem with the help of a mentor."

Meghna Sitaram talks about Science Research camp she is attending at Chatham High

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