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Young scientist contest winners visit EUROfusion

Every year, European research member organisations of EIROforum offer a visit to one of their research facilities as one of the prizes on offer at the EUCYS European high school student competition. Irakli Veshapeli and Anastasia Bolkvadze, winners of the EUROfusion prize visited the ASDEX-Upgrade tokamak in Garching bei München in the first week of spring to discover fusion, astronomy and meet a childhood hero.

Fusion was not the first thing on the minds of Georgian high school students Anastasia Bolkvadze and Irakli Veshapeli when they entered the EUCYS competition in September 2023. Their winning project was a self-made, low-cost telescope using easily sourced materials. Their goal: to enable high school students and teachers to build affordable telescopes and start experimenting with astronomy in the classroom.

Visiting the plasma science exhibition at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics. Photo: Stefanie Schlatt / IPP
Visiting the plasma science exhibition at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics. Photo: Stefanie Schlatt / IPP

Dedication

Their telescope effort landed Anastasia and Irakli a special commendation from the EUCYS jury, impressed by how two young and dedicated contestants managed to realise their vision with no external support and on a very limited budget: “They showed a high level of understanding of optics and a very strong interest in experimental physics,” noted the jury.

As the reward for their impressive project, the pair had the opportunity to visit the fusion research facilities at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching bei München, one of the German EUROfusion members.

Georgian high school students Anastasia Bolkvadze and Irakli Veshapeli at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching-bei-München. Photo: Stefanie Schlatt / IPP
Georgian high school students Anastasia Bolkvadze and Irakli Veshapeli at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching-bei-München. Photo: Stefanie Schlatt / IPP

In addition to touring the ASDEX Upgrade fusion machine, Anastasia and Irakli met with Georgian fusion researcher David Tskhakayan and visited the nearby Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics for a special practicum. A visit to the ESO Supernova exhibition and planetarium rounded out their week of science. Irakli and Anastasia said that the visits were amazing, and they had a lot of fun exploring the exhibitions and talking to scientists learning more about nuclear fusion.

Future scientists

For Irakli in particular, the visit was a continuation of a long-standing interest in science, which began at the age of seven when he watched a TV lecture by renowned astro-particle physicist Giorgi Dvali. Meeting Dvali, now a professor of theoretical physics at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the director at the Max Planck Institute for Physics, was a highlight of his visit.

Irakli Veshapeli plans to study astrophysics after graduation, while Anastasia Bolkvadze looks forward to studying chemistry.

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