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PPPL honors engineer Charles Neumeyer and physicist Rajesh Maingi

PPPL presented its 2015 outstanding research awards to engineer Charles Neumeyer and physicist Rajesh Maingi following Stewart Prager’s October 5 State of the Laboratory address. Neumeyer received the Kaul Foundation Prize “For the design analysis and overall management of the U.S. contributions to the steady state electric network (SSEN) that will supply power to ITER. This culminated in the successful delivery of the first major plant components to ITER, establishing procedures for all future shipments of ITER components.” Maingi received the Distinguished Research Fellow award “For seminal research and program leadership in tokamak boundary and divertor physics.”

 Neumeyer, team leader for the SSEN, will receive a $7,000 cash award as part of the Kaul Prize. Former PPPL Director Ronald Davidson endowed the prize by giving Princeton University a portion of the gift he received as the 1993 recipient of the Award for Excellence in Science, Education and Physics from the Kaul Foundation in Tampa, Florida.

The honor for Maingi, division head of boundary physics research and plasma-facing components, includes a $5,000 cash award supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. The recognition is part of the Laboratory’s Distinguished Research and Engineering Fellow Program, which honors members of the scientific and engineering staffs for their accomplishments.  

Charles Neumeyer

Winning the Kaul Award surprised engineer Charles Neumeyer, who noted that it is typically given for highly technical work. “What my team and I have been doing is pretty ordinary,” he said. While that may be true, Neumeyer’s work has paved the way for the delivery of virtually all components for the construction of ITER, the international tokamak being built in France to showcase fusion power. What he’s done has been “pioneering” said Mike Williams, associate director of engineering and infrastructure, who retired last month. “It’s quite an achievement.”

Neumeyer is purchasing some $33 million of transformers and other electrical equipment for ITER’s steady state electrical network, a substation and distribution network that will power all the complex plant’s electrical loads, except for the pulsed loads that will power the heating, current and magnetic fields inside the giant tokamak. This work requires intense paperwork every step of the way, from specifying contractor requirements to transferring ownership of what PPPL has bought to the ITER Organization.

Neumeyer delivered ITER’s first major shipment, a 90-ton transformer made by Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries, to the project in January. Completion of the job, and the reams of paperwork that Neumeyer and his team put together to accomplish it, showed ITER’s seven partners — countries with more than half the world’s population — how such work could be done.

Neumeyer arrived at PPPL in 1976 as an employee of EBASCO — now a division of AECOM — to work on power supplies for the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor. He became a Lab employee in 1983, went back to EBASCO in 1991, and rejoined PPPL in 1995 to stay. His jobs since returning have included responsibility as project engineer for all activities in the design, manufacturing and commissioning of the National Spherical Tokamak (NSTX), and establishment of all design details for the upgrade.

For ITER, Neumeyer and his team have now purchased 12 of the 16 electrical groups that PPPL is providing for the SSEN, whose 120 megawatts will be enough to run a small city. The team has done this on time, at a cost well below budget, by carefully selecting the most efficient contractors from around the world. “I’m really happy that the contracts we have placed are going to the best companies to do the work,” Neumeyer said. “By issuing one contract at a time, rather than handing everything to one company, we’ve been able to pick and choose the best qualified manufacturers at the most competitive pricing.”

None of this would have been possible without teamwork, Neumeyer added. He offered special thanks to engineer John Dellas; planning and control officer Skip Schoen; quality assurance specialist Frank Malinowski; shipping logistics coordinator Barry Jedic, and document control specialist Kathleen Lukazik. “We all work together,” he said. 

Rajesh Maingi

Maingi is known throughout the world as an expert on the physics of the plasma edge and for program leadership. When the DoE management in Fusion Energy Sciences under the Office of Science sponsored a nationwide community strategic planning activity and workshop on Plasma Materials Interactions earlier this year, Maingi was chosen to chair the entire process, and hosted the workshop held at PPPL in May.

Yet he is modest about his achievements and renown. “I had no idea I had been nominated” for this award, he recalls. "I'm very, very happy to have been selected. There are many talented, smart, and wonderful people here, and any of them could have won this award. So if you're actually selected, it's a huge honor."

Results of Maingi’s research are highly valued. "Rajesh has made many important contributions to boundary physics on NSTX and has many great research results yet to come on NSTX-U,” said Jon Menard, program director for NSTX-U. “For example, his work on understanding the impact of lithium wall coatings on tokamak plasma performance is helping to spread lithium research to other devices around the world. Rajesh is very highly deserving of this Distinguished Research Fellow Award."

Maingi joined the PPPL staff in 2012, but that wasn't the first time he had stepped on to the Laboratory's campus. From 1999-to-2012 he was on long-term assignment to the National Spherical Tokamak Experiment (NSTX) project from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Understanding the behavior of the edge of fusion plasma is important because the plasma is so much hotter than the surrounding materials that uncontrolled interactions can damage the tokamak's walls.

Maingi’s research includes what happens when plasma interacts with lithium. Conducting experiments on a suite of international fusion machines — NSTX-U, DIII-D in San Diego, EAST in Hefei, China, and ASDEX-U in Garching, Germany — Maingi studies the behavior of components coated with lithium, the characteristics of surfaces made up of liquid lithium, and the effects of lithium aerosol sprayed directly into plasmas. Physicists have learned that lithium improves a tokamak's performance, and that lithium particles will not shut down fusion reactions as quickly as other impurities will.

Rajesh first got interested in fusion as a high school senior in 1983. In fact, while working on a senior research project he consulted physics papers written by PPPL scientists. He never expected, though, that his career would bring him to the institution that housed those very researchers. "I never thought I'd end up at the same place!" he recalls.

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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