On July 19, at a party in his honor, Thomas received an Appreciation Award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for his efforts teaching students about magnetism; this follows a Governor’s Citation, awarded in June by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray, “in recognition of nearly 20 years of dedicated service to the ‘Mr. Magnet’ program.”
A technical director at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), Thomas took on the persona of “Mr. Magnet” in the early 1990s, traveling to local schools with what grew to be a large truckload of experiments. Students used an electromagnet to lifts hundreds of colored paper clips, watched rice krispies rise and cascade off the top of a Van de Graaff generator, generated electricity to power the White House and launched Garfield the Cat into space on a magnetic pulse. Although he stopped traveling, Thomas has continued to teach students at in-house events, and has created portable demonstrations for others to use at science expos and local schools.
DOE Associate Director for Fusion Energy Sciences Ed Synakowski; Acting Division Director of Research Steve Eckstrand; and West Virginia University Professor Mark Koepke, the DOE's senior scientific coordinator for basic plasma science, observed and participated in the celebration for Thomas via videoconference.
PSFC Director Miklos Porkolab read the citation on the DOE award to those attending. Signed by the Director of the Office of Science, W.F. Brinkman, the award reads: “In recognition of Paul Thomas, aka Mr. Magnet, a gifted teacher who for 18 years has transported his creative hands-on demonstrations directly to schools around New England and the U.S., sowing the seeds of curiosity and scientific discovery in young minds. Whether leading demonstrations of magnetism, energy production, superconductivity or plasma science, Paul Thomas has encouraged students to become scientists for a day so they may appreciate science for a lifetime.”
Synakowski added that his gratitude, and that of the nation, extends beyond the words on the plaque.