Posted on: 10th November 2016

One of the biggest fusion conferences in the world, the Fusion Energy Conference, started on a solemn note this year. During the conference, the fusion community honoured Paul Vandenplas, who passed away on 20 October 2016. He will be remembered as much for his scientific contributions as for his diplomatic and leadership skills.

Paul started his career with a degree in Civil Engineering and a PhD in Physics and then went on to take up professorship at the Belgian Royal Military Academy, where he founded the Laboratory for Plasma Physics, EUROfusion’s Belgian Research Unit. He led the Laboratory until his retirement in 1997. Among the diverse topics that Paul worked on were those of plasma waves and Ion Cyclotron Resonance Heating (ICRH) antennas; ICRH continues to be a focus area for the laboratory to this day.

In 1996 Paul co-founded the Trilateral Euregio Cluster; an initiative for which he was awarded the Jülich Minerva Museum prize in 2014, together with his colleagues, Prof. Gerd Wolf and Prof. van der Wiel.

Paul was a staunch advocate for collaboration in fusion research at European and international levels, an aspect that is a cornerstone of EUROfusion’s mission. “Paul has been a key player in the European fusion research endeavour; more or less from its initiation until his death,” says EUROfusion Programme Manager Tony Donné. “He was an excellent manager, a diplomat, a great scientist and above all a warm person and a good colleague. His diplomatic skills were an important asset in times when the fusion programme went through difficult, and sometimes uncertain, phases,” Tony adds.

Indeed, at a time when there was uncertainty about which country would host ITER, Paul lobbied for bringing ITER to Europe. He penned a letter to Nature underlining why Europe would be best suited to have ITER and wrote, “Europe is ready, willing and able to host the ITER, so let’s get on and meet the challenge.” ITER is the biggest international fusion experiment in the world and is currently being built in Cadarache, France.