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By David Voss
Plasma physicist Erol Oktay knows the importance of collaboration. Now retired, Oktay was for many years involved in one of the world's most complex and collaborative endeavors—the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) being built in France to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy based on the same principle that powers our Sun and stars. And as a member of the APS Legacy Circle, he values the way physicists can come together to support their professional society through the APS planned giving programs.
"I've been a member of APS for over 50 years," says Oktay. "I decided I should go ahead and support the field of plasma physics and fusion. I started talking to people in the community and decided that the best way would be through APS and the Division of Plasma Physics."
Oktay received his PhD degree from the University of Michigan in 1969 with a thesis on how lasers interact with laboratory plasmas. After five years of research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland, he joined the US Department of Energy (which was then called the Atomic Energy Commission) and worked in the Controlled Thermonuclear Fusion Division until his retirement in 2011.
Julianne and Erol Oktay
"My activities in this group involved program management with responsibilities of oversight for fusion programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, Oak Ridge National Lab, and General Atomics in San Diego," he explains. "In addition, I was involved with the International Energy Agency (IEA) and bilateral collaborations with all major fusion labs in the European Union (France, Germany, Belgium, and Italy), and in UK, South Korea, Japan, Russia, China, and India. My position for the last five years of my government career was Acting Director, ITER and International Division in the Office of Fusion Science.”
In early 2020, Oktay and his wife, Prof. Julianne Oktay, established with APS the "International Fusion Research on Burning Plasma Physics Fund," which supports students and early career scientists at US universities to take part in international workshops and research activities. They have made a multi-year gift to support this effort and made a legacy gift to further this important work for years to come.
The Oktays are members of the APS Legacy Circle, which recognizes donors who support the APS mission through this kind of planned giving. By including APS in their estate plans, the members create an enduring legacy that will benefit researchers, educators, students, and the general public.
Oktay would like to see more people involved in the Legacy Circle. "We also contribute to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and they have a Legacy Circle that is quite big," he says. "I think that the physics community should be more aware of the APS Legacy Circle and that there are quite a lot of people who can make this kind of contribution."
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine