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Of Interest

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AAAS conference

ITER on the world science stage

Laban Coblentz, Head of Communication

With more than 120,000 members globally, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is billed as the world's largest scientific society. The theme of this year's Annual Meeting, "Science Transcending Boundaries," drew exhibitors, researchers, and science luminaries to Washington D.C., and ITER was well represented.

''You can really feel the change,'' says ITER Communication's Sabina Griffith (centre). ''In past meetings, it always felt like no one had ever heard of ITER, but now people are really following the project and are eager to discover the latest progress.'' (Click to view larger version...)
''You can really feel the change,'' says ITER Communication's Sabina Griffith (centre). ''In past meetings, it always felt like no one had ever heard of ITER, but now people are really following the project and are eager to discover the latest progress.''
The ITER walk-in cinema was a popular destination in the exhibit hall. Hundreds of viewers immersed themselves in the latest drone footage from the ITER worksite. Journalists were also keen to learn more; Director-General Bigot gave interviews to The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, BBC Television, National Public Radio, USA Today, and more.

The ITER Director-General grants an interview to BBC Television science correspondent Pallab Ghosh. (Click to view larger version...)
The ITER Director-General grants an interview to BBC Television science correspondent Pallab Ghosh.
The highlight came Friday afternoon in the form of a 90-minute workshop on "ITER: the Quest for a New Source of Safe and Clean Energy." The session was moderated by journalist Dan Clery of Science magazine, the author of the fusion chronicle, A Piece of the Sun, who has been "writing about ITER since before ITER existed." Clery began by interviewing ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot on topics ranging from upcoming project milestones to Brexit. He then brought Ned Sauthoff, Director of US ITER, and Mickey Wade, Director of Advanced Fusion Systems at General Atomics, to discuss US contributions to ITER and the benefits of the project to US industry. The final Q&A highlighted the remarkable diversity of the audience, with questions coming from grizzled fusion veterans and sharp-witted teenagers alike.

Saturday was Family Science Day, with boatloads of parents bringing their children to tour the exhibition hall and special exhibits. Saturday afternoon featured a showing of the fusion documentary Let There Be Light, and filmmaker Mila Aung-Thwin of EyeSteelFilms was on hand to answer questions from an enthusiastic crowd.

The ITER walk-in cinema is popular with young and old ... (Click to view larger version...)
The ITER walk-in cinema is popular with young and old ...
The ITER Director-General made the most of his time in the US capitol, meeting with a number of administration and congressional officials. ITER project updates, US contributions, and the recent positive report on ITER from the US National Academies were the main topics. Multiple officials also congratulated Bernard Bigot on his acceptance of a second term of office, expressing their conviction that this would ensure project continuity and reliability. The timing of discussions was noteworthy, as the US Administration prepares to send the president's Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal to the Congress in the next few weeks.


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