Magnetic fusion research at Princeton began in 1951 under the code name Project Matterhorn. Lyman Spitzer, Jr., 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 highly exaggerated claims of fusion researchers in Argentina, Professor Spitzer conceived of a plasma being confined in a figure-eight-shaped tube by an externally generated magnetic field. 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 and Princeton University's controlled fusion effort was born. In 1958, magnetic fusion research was declassified allowing all nations to share their results openly.
For the past three decades, PPPL has been a leader in magnetic confinement experiments utilizing the tokamak approach. This work culminated in the world-record performance of the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR), which operated at PPPL from 1982 to 1997. Beginning in 1993, TFTR was the first in the world to use 50/50 mixtures of deuterium-tritium, yielding an unprecedented 10.7 million watts of fusion power.
PPPL researchers are now leading work on an advanced fusion device — the National Spherical Torus Experiment — and are developing other innovative concepts. 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.