New Jersey Labor Commissioner highlights apprentices at PPPL during National Apprentice Week

Written by
Jeanne Jackson DeVoe
Dec. 1, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) celebrated National Apprentice Week recently with a visit from New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. who received an inside view of the high-tech work PPPL’s apprentices are doing.

The visit on highlighted PPPL’s apprenticeship program, which trains early career technicians in the skills needed to develop fusion energy, which drives the sun and stars and which the Laboratory aims to harness on Earth, and to create industries of the future.

Commissioner Asaro-Angelo held a press conference in the lobby of the PPPL Lyman Spitzer Building on Nov. 18 to announce $4 million in funding for apprentice programs in the state. He noted that PPPL’s apprentice program is a model for other national laboratories across the country. “You’re setting a great example for the kinds of industries that can take part in this,” Ansaro-Angelo said. “It’s a win-win for industries and employees.”

PPPL’s apprentices are among 9,000 or so apprentices in 1,100 different programs in New Jersey, Asaro-Angelo said. Asaro-Angelo helped launch the start of PPPL’s apprentice program in 2019. “This shows the value of these programs not only to the Laboratory but to the community,” Asaro-Angelo said.

PPPL’s apprentices receive four years, or 8,000 hours, of paid training in electronics, electrical technology, mechanical, welding, machining, and information technology. At the same time, they receive four years (576 hours) of technical coursework at Mercer Technical School and Mercer Community College.

Steve Cowley, PPPL director, first started the program after working with a similar program at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in the United Kingdom, which he previously led. Cowley said the apprenticeship program will grow as PPPL expands from its primary mission of developing fusion energy as a clean, affordable and plentiful source of electricity to plasma research in areas such as microelectronics and carbon reduction. “If you’re going to make fusion work, you need people who solve problems like me, but you also need people who can make things,” Cowley said. “That kind of technical skill is a super intelligence on its own.”

Cowley noted that none of the apprentices has dropped out of the program. He credited the program’s coordinators, Andrew Carpe, Al Von Halle, Diana Adel, and Shannon Swilley Greco, with establishing the program. “When I suggested we might have an apprentice program, their eyes lit up and they made it happen,” Cowley said.

During the tour, the apprentices showed off their work on the central magnet for PPPL’s fusion experiment, the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U). The apprentices showed the device, which is being rebuilt, and demonstrated a personnel protection system that ensures no one is in the test cell when the device is operating.  Asaro-Angelo also visited the technical shops and other areas.

Apprentice Adam Martin, left, with Commissioner Asaro-Angelo.
Adam Miller, a first-year machinist apprentice, with Asaro-Angelo. (Photo by Kiran Sudarsanan/PPPL Office of Communications) 

Aaron Floyd, a third-year electrical apprentice, was one of the four original apprentices when the program started in 2019. He has since completed his technical classes at Mercer County Technical School and is taking classes at Mercer County Community College. Floyd said he didn’t realize the complexity of the work he would be doing when he first began the apprenticeship. “I believed this was going to be an electrical job,” he said. But he now works on powerful electrical systems that deliver 13,800 volts (13.8 kV).

Sheehan Twomey, another third-year electrical apprentice, echoed Floyd’s remarks. He said the apprentice program will qualify him for highly skilled technical jobs anywhere in the country. “We can go pretty much anywhere with very specific skills,” he said.

Kevin Purdy, another third-year apprentice, is machining parts for the Lithium Tokamak Experiment-Beta, another experiment at PPPL. He has learned far more than machining and has learned all about vacuum systems and been surprised at how large PPPL’s experiments are, he said.

Apprentice Luke Johnson with N.J. Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo.
Luke Johnston, a welding apprentice, shows off his work to Asaro-Angelo. (Photo by Kiran Sudarsanan/PPPL Office of Communications) 

Sean Hough, a second-year electrical apprentice, joked later that his children are impressed that he is working at a national laboratory that is creating fusion energy, which is part of the plot of a Spiderman movie. “My kids think I’m going to get bitten by a spider and get superpowers,” he said. “I think that’s pretty cool. We’re in an energy-critical solution. Now to work for a company that prioritizes sustainable energy is a good thing.”

Dennis Alvarado, PPPL’s first information technology apprentice, agreed. “Working here in any capacity is an honor,” he said.

More information on PPPL’s apprentice program is available here.

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. 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




PPPL is mastering the art of using plasma — the fourth state of matter — to solve some of the world's toughest science and technology challenges. Nestled on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, New Jersey, our research ignites innovation in a range of applications including fusion energy, nanoscale fabrication, quantum materials and devices, and sustainability science. The University manages the Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the nation’s single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences. Feel the heat at and