DeLooper handles complex tasks at PPPL with grace
Helping others comes naturally to John DeLooper. He hung around the Lodi volunteer ambulance corps as a teenager and joined up as soon as he turned 18. He went on to become captain of the Lodi ambulance and rescue squad, which answered some 2,000 emergency calls a year. “I enjoyed helping people in their time of need,” he recalled.
DeLooper’s rapid response to challenges comes in handy at PPPL, where his role as head of Best Practices and Outreach touches virtually every aspect of the Laboratory. Whether the job is ensuring compliance with federal directives or hosting high-profile visitors, DeLooper is invariably the person to see. “I do whatever I have to do to support the folks in the Director’s Office,” said DeLooper, who joined the Lab in 1988 as a quality engineer. “My goal is to make the office a success in carrying out the mission of the Laboratory.”
His efforts are well recognized. “John masterminds and executes a wide array of Lab responsibilities with amazing dexterity,” said PPPL Director Stewart Prager. “He somehow pulls off many arduous accomplishments with grace. He is an expert resource for many of us and functions, in effect, as a ‘chief of staff’ for the lab.”
DeLooper takes his profusion of duties in stride. “The old saying is, ‘Find something you love to do and you’ll never a work a day in your life,’” DeLooper said. “And that’s the way I feel.”
His job, in a nutshell, is to help PPPL fulfill the 600-page contract that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has given Princeton University to run the Laboratory. The task calls for overseeing a bevy of functions:
Best Practices: This office identifies and helps install best industry and DOE laboratory practices for everything from hallway signs to safety management. The division also reviews proposed new policies and procedures, and is developing a dashboard of indicators that managers can use to gauge their departments’ progress.
Quality Assurance: Members of this office audit how well the Laboratory performs work as varied as handling hazardous waste and testing new equipment. Staffers also help scientists and engineers draft procurement documents, and inspect jobs like the welds on the NSTX upgrade project.
Technology Transfer, Patents and Publication: This function transfers patented PPPL inventions to public and private organizations through licensing and other arrangements. The process includes reviewing PPPL technical papers before they are published to see if they discuss inventions that could be patented. If so, the Laboratory works with Princeton University to prepare patent applications.
Science Education: The Laboratory regularly reaches out to students, teachers and the general public. Programs range from student internships and week-long “plasma camps” for college students and high school teachers, to Science on Saturday lectures that attract hundreds of people to the Laboratory for weekly talks on scientific topics from January through April.
DeLooper might also be called “compiler-in-chief.” He works with Laboratory leaders to compile the more-than 100-page report that DOE uses to grade PPPL each year. He also assembles the Laboratory’s annual business plan. And when the PPPL advisory committee arrives twice a year to review the Laboratory, he compiles and keeps track of the group’s recommendations.
DeLooper brings both an engineering and a business perspective to such tasks. He holds both a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. His technical background has enabled him to participate in some Laboratory engineering projects. “It’s a great basis to go from,” he says of his engineering degree.
That training helped DeLooper join Burns and Roe Enterprises, an Oradell engineering and construction firm, straight out of college. He rose to the position of manager of corporate quality assurance before being recruited to PPPL in the late 1980s. “They were designing different teams at the time and were looking for someone to be the quality engineer,” DeLooper recalls.
The job soon tested his organizing skills when James Watkins, the U.S. Secretary of Energy at the time, decreed that each national laboratory had to be scrutinized by a team of experts. That brought some 50 investigators called the “Tiger Team” to PPPL for a four-week evaluation that DeLooper helped organize. The cafeteria became the office for all the visitors, he recalled, which required the real cafeteria and its diners to move into the lobby.
DeLooper was called on again when the Laboratory handled logistics for some 300 experts from around the world who met in Snowmass, Colo., in 1999 and 2002 to discuss pathways to fusion energy. The second gathering urged the United States to rejoin ITER, the international fusion project currently under construction in France, which the U.S had withdrawn from for budget reasons in 1998. The U.S. subsequently rejoined ITER in 2003.
“We had to worry about all the meeting arrangements,” DeLooper said of the Snowmass gatherings. “Lots of times when I’ve been successful,” he added, “it’s because when I ask for help, people in the Laboratory give it.”
DeLooper shares his own life-long interest in helping people with his wife, Carol, a nurse who is training to become a nurse practitioner. They met while DeLooper was giving a course on extricating drivers and passengers from car accidents to members of the Moonachie first aid squad. Carol wasn’t taking the course but happened by as a member of the ambulance corps. The couple has three children: John, a librarian at Hudson County Community College; Raechel, a special education teacher in Virginia; and David, a business student at the College of New Jersey.
DeLooper takes to heart a creed a mentor taught him “when I was feeling a little too cocky back in my younger days.” He has tacked the motto to an office wall in the form of a poem by an unknown author. The final stanza reads:
The moral in this quaint example
Is do just the best that you can.
Be proud of yourself, but remember
There is no indispensable man.
“I always live by that creed,” DeLooper said.
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.
© 2020 Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. All rights reserved.