The U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) is a collaborative national center for fusion energy research. The Laboratory advances the coupled fields of fusion energy and plasma physics research, and, with collaborators, is developing the scientific understanding and key innovations needed to realize fusion as an energy source for the world. An associated mission is providing the highest quality of scientific education.
About the Lab
The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a world-class fusion energy research laboratory dedicated to developing the scientific and technological knowledge base for fusion energy as a safe, economical and environmentally attractive energy source for the world’s long-term energy requirements.
Princeton University manages PPPL, which is part of the national laboratory system funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through the Office of Science. The fiscal year 2017 budget is approximately $93 million. The number of full-time employees is 500, plus 22 postdoctoral researchers, 40 graduate students, 6 joint faculty, and about 350 visiting scientists. The Laboratory sits on 91 acres on Princeton University's James Forrestal Campus, about three miles from the main campus.
Through its efforts to build and operate magnetic fusion devices, PPPL has gained extensive capabilities in a host of disciplines including advanced computational simulations, vacuum technology, mechanics, materials science, electronics, computer technology, and high-voltage power systems. In addition, PPPL scientists and engineers are applying knowledge gained in fusion research to other theoretical and experimental areas, including the development of plasma thrusters and the propagation of intense beams of ions. The Laboratory’s Office of Technology Transfer assists industry, other universities, and state and local government in transferring these technologies to the commercial sector.
The Laboratory’s graduate education and science education programs provide educational opportunities for students and teachers from elementary school through postgraduate studies.
Magnetic fusion research at Princeton began in 1951 under the code name Project Matterhorn. Lyman Spitzer, Jr., professor of astronomy at Princeton University, for many years had been involved in the study of very hot rarified gases in interstellar space. He launched the study of thermonuclear fusion with support from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and Princeton University’s controlled fusion effort was born.
In 1958, magnetic fusion research was declassified, allowing all nations to share their results openly. The name of the project was changed to the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in 1961. The collaborative nature of fusion research continues today, with PPPL at the forefront.
The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has two coupled missions.
- First, PPPL develops the scientific understanding of plasmas from nano- to astrophysical-scale. Plasma physics, the study of hot ionized gas, is crucial to understanding the dynamics of the visible universe and solar system, and high temperature matter in all contexts. This knowledge has a broad range of applications, including fusion energy, forecasting the impact of solar storms, semiconductor chip manufacturing, and technological (e.g., plasma production of carbon nanotubes).
- Second, PPPL develops the scientific knowledge to enable fusion to power the U.S. and the world. Under appropriate conditions and composition, plasma with very high temperature, density, and confinement will release energy from nuclear fusion. PPPL has been a leader in developing the physics of high temperature plasmas needed for fusion. PPPL will continue to solve plasma physics problems crucial to fusion energy, as well as contribute to solutions of key engineering science challenges associated with the material structure that surrounds the hot plasma.
Woven throughout PPPL's approach, as a core part of Princeton University’s culture, PPPL educates and inspires future generations for the national interest. This includes outreach programs for science education from grammar school to college, a world-leading graduate education program in plasmas and astrophysical sciences in conjunction with Princeton University, and hosting hundreds of external students and thousands of visitors each year.
Enabling a world powered by safe, clean and plentiful fusion energy while leading discoveries in plasma science and technology.