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Adam Cohen becomes Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Energy in Washington

After nearly seven years as deputy director for operations at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), Adam Cohen has been named Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Energy in Washington D.C. He succeeds Michael Knotek, who retired September 30.

 “I am very excited and humbled by the opportunity to take on this role,” Cohen said. “I look forward to working with Secretary [Ernest] Moniz, Under Secretary [Lynn] Orr and all within the department, as well as across the complex, in supporting the research mission of the department and helping to ensure the vitality of the national laboratories.”

Cohen’s contributions to the Laboratory have been invaluable, said A.J. Stewart Smith, Princeton University vice-president for PPPL. “He evolved the management structure that we all enjoy today,” Smith said. “He has been a superb colleague and will be sorely missed.”

Wide-ranging position

In Washington, Cohen’s wide-ranging position will help Orr, a chemical engineer from Stanford University who was sworn in last December, oversee the seven Energy and Science organizations within DOE. These organizations, which include the Offices of Science, Nuclear Energy and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, oversee 13 of the 17 national laboratories, including PPPL.

Cohen will not be directly involved with operations at PPPL, or with any activities with a direct impact on PPPL, since he is on assignment from Princeton, which manages the Laboratory.  He assumes the post under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, which provides renewable government positions for personnel at universities and national laboratories. Princeton and PPPL have launched a national search for his replacement.

Cohen will make use of his fusion experience by heading the U.S. delegation to ITER, the international fusion experiment that is under construction in France.  His contact with ITER will be at the international level; he will not be directly involved in the US ITER Project Office at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In charge of $94 million upgrade

At PPPL, which recently completed construction of the $94 million National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade, the Laboratory’s major fusion experiment, Cohen has played many critical roles. As deputy director for operations, he was in charge of the upgrade and ran the indirect — or non-research — side of the Laboratory, whose departments range from engineering and infrastructure to information technology. He recently headed preparation of the Campus Plan, a 10-year program for modernizing the Laboratory whose first steps are under way, and set the Lab on its current path to a business system upgrade that will replace all financial software by 2018.  

In other initiatives, Cohen has strongly advocated expanding PPPL research beyond its core fusion activities. He was a moving force in setting up a low-temperature plasma lab to study nanotechnology and in creating PTOLEMY, an experiment to detect Big Bang neutrinos that could offer clues to the origin of the universe. Other non-fusion projects that he has supported include an advanced centrifuge and a plasma mass filter, both of which are designed for nuclear cleanup. 

Cohen holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Columbia University, a doctorate in materials science from Northwestern University and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. After graduating from Columbia he spent four years as a junior U.S. Navy officer aboard nuclear submarines, followed by two years assembling fuel rods for nuclear power plants for Babcock and Wilcox in Virginia.  He went on to spend 20 years at Argonne National Laboratory, during which time he earned his doctorate and M.B.A. degrees and rose to the position of chief operating officer.

Second Washington position

Cohen’s new post marks his second Washington position. From 2006 to 2008 he served on assignment from Argonne as senior adviser for nuclear energy for Raymond Orbach, who was both Undersecretary for Science and Director of the Office of Science, which funds basic research for energy and the physical sciences. While in Washington Cohen helped to organize the National Laboratory Directors’ Council, which facilitates communications among the laboratories and between the DOE and Congress and other federal agencies, and which has given rise to other national laboratory groups.

Cohen brought his interest in networking to PPPL, which he joined in 2009. “Adam has helped to integrate us with the rest of the labs,” said Mike Zarnstorff, deputy director for research of PPPL. “We participate in a variety of ways because of his efforts. We call upon other laboratories, and they call to consult with us.”

Reflecting on his years at PPPL, Cohen says, “I have been very proud of the people who work at the Laboratory and the achievements we have seen. The team of people we have at the Lab are best in class, and I believe the Lab is in a great position to lead in the next phases of both fusion and plasma physics research. While I came with deep experience in energy research, management and operations, I have learned a great deal about the fusion and plasma physics fields, about the academic environment, and many aspects of management.” That knowledge, combined with Cohen’s already wide and deep experience, will help to guide him in the important new position that he has assumed. 

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. Results of PPPL research have ranged from a portable nuclear materials detector for anti-terrorist use to universally employed computer codes for analyzing and predicting the outcome of fusion experiments. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

 

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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