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Interview with Sascha Rienäcker, PhD track student in plamas physics

Sascha Rienäcker is a PhD track student in plasma physics. He has been selected for a PLASMAScience M2 grant.
Interview with Sascha Rienäcker, PhD track student in plamas physics

Sascha, you are 22 years old, you come from Germany and you are currently a PhD student in plasma physics at the Institut Polytechnique de Paris. Why did you choose France for your studies?

I am Franco-German, which is one of the main reasons why I chose France for my master and doctoral studies. So far, my school and academic trajectory has been mainly in Germany. I got my French-German baccalaureate in Kehl (a city in the Strasbourg area) and then my bachelor's degree in physics at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Then I wanted to discover something else and particularly to restore the balance between my two countries of origin, from a cultural and linguistic point of view. Obviously, my other motivation was the excellent reputation of the Ecole Polytechnique and its laboratories, including my host laboratory, the Laboratory of Plasma Physics (LPP). The LPP allowed me to specialize in the field of magnetic fusion. This, for example, would not have been possible in Karlsruhe. Finally, I obtained a scholarship from IP Paris, this financial support of the PhD track program was also a decisive reason.

How did you discover this program?

I have a scholarship from the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (in German: Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes). I discovered the PhD track thanks to its network.

This foundation is known to be very selective. Apparently, only 0.3% of all German students become Studienstiftung scholars. So, you are in the 0.3% of the happy few!

Yes, you can say it like that. Then I asked Mrs. Silke Biermann, head of the Physics Departments at X and IP Paris. She explained to me the program, the content, the choice of courses, the application etc. So I applied and I am happy that my application received a positive answer.

Do you like your studies here?

I like my studies very much. The level of teaching is very high and so is the level of the students participating in the courses I have taken. On the other hand, it is difficult for me to compare the level here with the level of my previous studies: the educational systems are quite different. For example, I was surprised by the intensity of the final phase of the terms (with the concentration of the tests in only about a week).

The PhD track program has a particular format, including the "a la carte" track and tutoring.  What do you think of this format?

I appreciate the flexibility of this program, especially the flexibility in choosing courses. As I said before, thanks to Ms. Biermann, who answered all my questions, I understood from the beginning the choices I could make in the curriculum.

Regarding the tutoring, I think it is a major asset of this program. I am very happy to have a tutor. I have the chance to be very well supervised by Mrs Hennequin of the LPP, who supports me and guides me in my academic career in plasma physics. Thanks to this support, I was able to carry out research work at the LPP (on the ToriX machine) from the beginning of my M1. My search for an internship at the end of the year was also facilitated by my tutor's network.

And what internship did you manage to find for this year?

I found an internship at CEA in Cadarache, in collaboration with the LPP. My supervisor, Mrs Vermare (LPP), proposed me a project of synthetic diagnosis, which is a simulation of a measuring tool (Doppler reflectometry) used for the diagnosis of plasmas, in particular Tokamaks. I chose this internship not only because I like the subject (I have an affinity for programming/simulation work), but also because of the place. Thus, I can discover the Cadarache site which could, who knows, become my place of work in the future. This internship offers the opportunity to discover the WEST Tokamaks and maybe even ITER. ITER is currently in the assembly phase and it is very impressive!

You complete your M1 program by your internship, the academic year is almost over. What can you say about this first year in the particular context of COVID? Did you manage to make connections with other students despite the health situation ?

Despite the health restrictions, it went well. We have a network on Discord platform which gathers most of the PhD track students. From the beginning of the academic year, thanks to this network, we managed to organize a meeting and we were able to get to know each other on site before the beginning of the second lockdown. Besides that, this network is very useful because we exchange all kind of practical information about the studies.

IP Paris offers two Master 2 courses in plasma physics: Physics of Plasmas and Fusion, and Large Facilities. So, which master next year?

I intend to follow the Master Year 2 in Plysics of Plasmas and Fusion course. After my internship in Cadarache, I would surely be interested in a research project at the ASDEX-Upgrade Tokamak, based on the already existing collaboration between the LPP magnetic fusion plasma group and the team in Garching (Germany). This is one of the options I am considering for my M2 internship.
In any case, I wish to continue in research in the field of plasmas and magnetic fusion.

What are your plans for next year? IP Paris offers two Master 2 programs in plasma physics: Physics of Plasmas and Fusion and Large Facilities. So, which master program next year?

I intend to follow the Physics of Plasmas and Fusion M2 program. After my internship in Cadarache, I would surely be interested in a research project at the ASDEX-Upgrade Tokamak, based on the already existing collaboration between the LPP magnetic fusion plasma group and the team in Garching (Germany). This is one of the options I am considering for my M2 internship.

In any case, I wish to continue in research in the field of plasmas and magnetic fusion.