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Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
Established 1961 (1961)
Budget $75 million (2012)[1]
Field of research
Plasma physics
Director Stewart C. Prager
Location Plainsboro Township, New Jersey, United States
Zip code
Campus Forrestal Campus
Operating agency
Princeton University
Website .gov.ppplwww

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory for plasma physics and nuclear fusion science located on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro Township, Middlesex County, New Jersey, United States. Its primary mission is research into and development of fusion as an energy source. It grew out of the top secret Cold War project to control thermonuclear reactions, called Project Matterhorn. In 1961, after declassification, Project Matterhorn was renamed the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.[2]


  • History 1
  • Directors 2
  • Current Major Research Projects and Experiments 3
    • Plasma Science and Technology 3.1
    • Theoretical Plasma Physics 3.2
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Lyman Spitzer, Jr., a professor of Astronomy at Princeton University, had for many years been involved in the study of very hot rarefied gases in interstellar space. Inspired by the fascinating but erroneous claims of controlled fusion achieved in Argentina by Ronald Richter, Spitzer was stimulated enough by the news to give further thought to fusion.[3] In 1950, he conceived of a plasma being confined in a figure-eight-shaped tube by an externally generated magnetic field, where the ionized hydrogen gas would fuse into helium, releasing energy for the production of power. He called this concept the stellarator, and took this design before the Atomic Energy Commission in Washington. As a result of this meeting and a review of the invention by designated scientists throughout the nation, the stellarator proposal was funded in 1951 as Project Matterhorn. In 1958, this magnetic fusion research was declassified following the 1955 United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. This generated an influx of graduate students eager to learn the "new" physics, which in turn influenced the lab to concentrate more on basic research.[4]

In the 1970s research at the PPPL refocused on the Russian tokamak design when it became evident that it was a more satisfactory containment design than the stellarator. By 1982, the PPPL under the direction of Harold Furth had the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) online, which operated until 1997.[5] Beginning in 1993, TFTR was the first in the world to use 50/50 mixtures of deuterium-tritium. In 1994 it yielded an unprecedented 10.7 megawatts of fusion power.[5]

In 1999, the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX), based on the spherical tokamak concept, came online at the PPPL. Laboratory scientists are collaborating with researchers on fusion science and technology at other facilities, both domestic and foreign. Staff are applying knowledge gained in fusion research to a number of theoretical and experimental areas including materials science, solar physics, chemistry, and manufacturing.


In 1961 Dr. Gottlieb became the first director of the renamed Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.[6] [7]

  • 1951-1961: Lyman Spitzer, director of Project Matterhorn
  • 1961-1980: Melvin B. Gottlieb
  • 1981-1990: Harold Furth
  • 1991-1996: Ronald C. Davidson[5]
  • 1997 (January–July): John A. Schmidt, interim director[5]
  • 1997-2008: Robert J. Goldston[8]
  • 2008–present: Stewart C. Prager[9]

Current Major Research Projects and Experiments

Plasma Science and Technology

  • Hall Thruster Experiment (HTX)[10]
  • Lithium Tokamak Experiment (LTX)
  • Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX)
  • Beam Dynamics and Nonneutral Plasma

Theoretical Plasma Physics

  • DOE Scientific Simulation Initiative
  • U.S. MHD Working Group
  • Field Reversed Configuration (FRC) Theory Consortium
  • Tokamak Physics Design and Analysis Codes
  • TRANSP Code
  • National Transport Code Collaboration (NTCC) Modules Library

See also

Project Sherwood


  1. ^ Labs at a glance
  2. ^ Tanner, Earl C. (1977) Project Mattherhorn: an informal history Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey, p. 77, OCLC 33015333
  3. ^ Burke, James (1999) The Knowledge Web: From Electronic Agents to Stonehenge and Back -- And Other Journeys Through Knowledge Simon & Schuster, New York, pp. 241-42, ISBN 0-684-85934-3
  4. ^ Bromberg, Joan Lisa (1982) Fusion: Science, Politics, and the Invention of a New Energy Source MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 97, ISBN 0-262-02180-3
  5. ^ a b c d Staff (1996) "Fusion Lab Planning Big Reactor's Last Run" The Record (Bergen County), 22 December 1996, p. N-07
  6. ^ Bromberg, Joan Lisa (1982) Fusion: Science, Politics, and the Invention of a New Energy Source MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 130, ISBN 0-262-02180-3
  7. ^ "Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory: History", Princeton University
  8. ^ Stern, Robert (2007) "Princeton fusion center to lose influential leader" The Star-Ledger Newark, New Jersey, 15 December 2007, p. 20
  9. ^ "Press Release, Prager to lead DOE's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory". Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  10. ^ "Hall Thruster Experiment (HTX)", Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, accessed 12 May 2009

External links

  • Project Matterhorn Publications and Reports, 1951-1958 Princeton University Library Digital Collections
  • Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Official Website
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