Mitchell Clement, postdoctoral researcher: Working at PPPL is “about trying to do really difficult things or solving a really difficult problem”

Written by
Jeanne Jackson DeVoe
Feb. 4, 2022

Mitchell Clement is a Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) postdoctoral researcher at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility in San Diego that General Atomics operates for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). His research focuses on using artificial intelligence, computer models and control theory to predict in real time how to control the ionized gas called a plasma that fuels fusion reactions to produce a clean, abundant and sustainable source of energy to generate electric power. 

Clement joined the Laboratory in 2019 after serving as a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University. He received a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in engineering physics from the University of California, San Diego, where his graduate work focused on controlling plasma instabilities on the DIII-D tokamak.

Clement grew up in Atlanta, the son of a mother who is a minister and an architect father. He  attended the U.S. Naval Academy where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He served five years in the U.S. Navy as a division officer aboard the USS Providence submarine in Groton, Connecticut. After leaving the Navy, he worked at Honeywell Aerospace and Defense for one year before beginning graduate school.

Clement can take credit for PPPL’s involvement in the Graduate Education for Minorities (GEM) Fellowship Program, which is aimed at increasing diversity among science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students. He was a GEM scholar through the National GEM Consortium as a graduate student and did two summer research internships at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. When Clement came to PPPL, he pitched the idea of PPPL joining the GEM Consortium. PPPL did just that several months later. The Laboratory became a GEM partner last year and hosted its first two graduate fellows last summer (See story here). Clement attended the GEM Consortium’s virtual tour of PPPL last summer.

Please describe your job:

“I consider myself a control engineer. I work on control theory and control design of fusion plasma. It’s a very difficult control problem that people have been working on for a long time. Now we have new methods that might make controlling the plasma a more tractable problem, especially with developments in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

What we’ve done so far is we’re using machine-learning models to manipulate the torque from those 3D coils on DIII-D. We’re also doing simulations in TRANSP, the tokamak simulation code…to manipulate the rotation of the plasma to make it advantageous to plasma stability. We’re trying to get experimental time to do those things.”

Please tell us three things about yourself:

  1. “I like cycling. I’m a big cyclist. I commute 15-and-a-half miles to work each way. It’s an hour each way.”
  2. “I’m a really big soccer fan. I only follow the big European leagues. It’s hard to have allegiance to something so far away but I have been to the Real Madrid Stadium. I just saw the grounds. I consider myself a Real Madrid fan.”
  3. “I like Southern cuisine. It’s hard to reproduce outside of the South. I cook some things and then I have some recipes in my repertoire from when I was growing up. I guess maybe it’s nostalgic…I haven’t found anyone who does macaroni and cheese very well outside the South.”

What does working at PPPL mean to you?

“It’s about trying to do really difficult things or solving a really difficult problem…Getting society on board to meet the goals [of creating fusion energy as a viable source of electricity] is a challenge.” 

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

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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