Exploring Women’s History Month: A PPPL engineer discusses her perspective

Written by
Anna Masciandaro
May 17, 2021

Jessica Guttenfelder: “Celebrating what women do despite roadblocks”

As the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory celebrates Women’s History Month throughout March, we asked some of our staff members to tell us what Women’s History Month means to them. This is the second of a weekly series throughout March.

Name: Jessica Guttenfelder

Position: Mechanical engineer and technical operations supervisor: Heating systems — neutral beams

How long at PPPL: Five years

Describe your job:

“I am an engineer who works on the neutral beam systems that we use to heat up the plasma in our major experiment, the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade. I'm also in charge of the team that is helping to prepare the NSTX-U machine for operations by making sure we've done all the repairs and upgrades necessary to the machine. It requires a lot of project management and problem solving to ensure everything is in order. I utilize my engineering skills when I have to review a drawing or a component or something needs to be replaced.”

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

“It’s an opportunity for everyone to recognize the achievements that women have made in the past but also really celebrate what women continue to do despite roadblocks and adversity. I think it’s really amazing what we’re able to do, even in the current situation. There are findings that show more women are leaving the workforce due to the impacts of COVID-19. This pandemic is another example that proves the rule as to why it is so important to continue to support women in roles outside of what’s considered traditional — just recognizing that and seeing that we make significant contributions in any kind of role that we take on. It’s really wonderful to just recognize that we’re capable of so much. I think it gets forgotten.”

What does working at PPPL mean to you?

“PPPL to me is a place where I take pride in being an employee and I’m having an impact on making fusion energy a reality. Even if I don’t see it in my lifetime, I feel like I’m making some sort of contribution. I think that’s really important given the facts that we know that global warming is a reality and fossil fuels have limits; they’re not a never-ending source of fuel. Knowing that we can make such significant progress in alternative energy using this and to just be a part of it is really cool. I love the science, too. It’s so amazing to me and I love sharing it with people.”

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 single largest 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, visit https://energy.gov/science