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Rob Goldston wins 2015 Nuclear Fusion Award for best paper published in 2012

The editorial board of the journal Nuclear Fusion has selected Rob Goldston, a fusion researcher and Princeton University professor of astrophysical sciences, as winner of the 2015 Nuclear Fusion Award. The award recognizes Goldston’s paper describing a new model for estimating the width of the scrape-off layer — the hot plasma that is exhausted in fusion facilities called tokamaks — as the most outstanding paper published by the journal in 2012.

The journal will present the honor, which includes an engraved award, a certificate and $2,500, during the 2016 Fusion Energy Conference in Kyoto, Japan.

On receiving the reward Goldston said, “It is a great pleasure to win this scientific award for a paper written three years after I stepped down from my leadership post at PPPL. It is fun to be back in the fray working with top-quality scientists, helping to make sense of very important, and very carefully measured, data.”

The paper by Goldston, a top scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and former director of the Laboratory, showed that the width of the scrape-off layer depends on how rapidly plasma moves across the magnetic field – due to well-understood classical “drifts” – as it flows into the divertor chamber.  The paper, titled “Heuristic drift-based model of the power scrape-off width in low-gas-puff H-mode tokamaks” can be found here.

"Significant impact on the direction of the field"

The editorial board cited the model as, “Potentially one of the most important results obtained in recent years in fusion,” and noted that it “provides a simple yet elegant model for the scrape-off layer power width.” Moreover, “the model has been shown to be in quantitative agreement, both in absolute magnitude and in scaling, with recent experimental data and has generated a great deal of discussion in the research community,” the editors said. “As the model predicts high localized heat fluxes in high current tokamak operation, this paper has already motivated further studies, and ultimately could have significant impact on the future direction of the field.”

Goldston began pondering the width of the scrape-off layer during a conference in South Korea in 2010. The new data suggested to him that the width of the layer could be produced without plasma turbulence, which is typically considered but notoriously difficult to calculate. So Goldston turned his attention to the motion of the subatomic particles and how far and fast they flow toward the divertor chamber while drifting across the magnetic field lines.

His model could be particularly useful for operators of ITER, the international tokamak under construction in France to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion power. ITER is designed to produce 500 megawatts of fusion power in 400 second-long pulses, which will require researchers to spread the scrape-off heat as much as possible to protect the divertor plate.

Goldston is the second PPPL researcher to win the Nuclear Fusion Award from the journal, which is co-published by the Institute of Physics and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Steven Sabbagh, a long-time PPPL collaborator and senior research scientist and adjunct professor of physics at Columbia University, won the honor in 2009 for a paper titled “Resistive wall stabilized operation in rotating high beta NSTX plasmas.”

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.


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

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