New laboratory-wide organization advances the development of fusion energy science at PPPL

Written by
John Greenwald
May 19, 2022

Renowned physicist Rajesh Maingi has been named head of a new laboratory-wide effort to capture and control in doughnut-shaped fusion facilities called tokamaks the vast power that drives the sun and stars. The broad new unit in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) “will facilitate movement and collaboration between all PPPL departments and divisions developing tokamak science,” Maingi said.

The structure folds in what had been the ITER and Tokamaks Department that collaborated with ITER, the international experiment under construction in France, together with publicly financed tokamaks in the U.S. and abroad. These collaborations are now within the new unit, which is called Tokamak Experimental Sciences (TES).

The reorganization aims to enhance PPPL’s role as the U.S. national laboratory devoted to the science of fusion energy. “Major goals for this reorganization include improving coordination and flexibility in staffing domestic and international tokamak experimental research at PPPL, and preparing for ITER research and operations and participating in tokamak fusion pilot plant design activities to be carried out by national teams in the U.S.,” said Jon Menard, deputy director for PPPL research, who spearheaded the restructuring. 

The new position draws on the widespread knowledge of tokamak science of Maingi, an acclaimed expert on the critical interaction of plasma, the hot, charged gas that fuels fusion reactions, with plasma-facing material in tokamaks. Joining Maingi as deputy head of TES is Joseph Snipes, who comes to PPPL from his role as a scientific expert at ITER and will start at PPPL on August 29, 2022.

Now included under TES are the following PPPL units:

The National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U), the PPPL flagship fusion facility. This department designs, runs and analyzes NSTX-U experiments to test the capability of the compact spherical device to operate as a cost-effective source of fusion energy that could serve as a model for a fusion pilot plant.

The Lithium Tokamak Experiment-Beta (LTX-β). Experiments on this recently upgraded small tokamak coat the plasma-facing walls of the device with liquid lithium to test the ability of the coating to maintain plasma heat and protect the walls of the facility.

Public and Private Tokamak Collaborations. This division collaborates with tokamak units formerly under ITER and Tokamaks and can partner with private developers of fusion energy. Included among the public partners are the Joint European Torus (JET) in the United Kingdom; the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) in China; and the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) device in South Korea.

In recognition of growing collaborations on spherical tokamaks outside of PPPL, a new Spherical Tokamak Research Collaborations Coordinator position has also been developed. Physicist Jack Berkery will join PPPL from Columbia University to take on this new role and other research activities starting July 1, 2022.

The DIII-D National Fusion Facility. This tokamak, which General Atomics operates for the DOE in San Diego, was part of the ITER and Tokamaks Department and is now a separate division of TES. The DIII-D began operating in 1986 and is the largest tokamak in the U.S.

ITER Research and Operations Coordination. This new coordination role to be filled will support U.S. ITER team formation and improve coordination between physics and engineering activities for the ITER diagnostics that PPPL is responsible for and will contribute to other TES activities.

TRANSP project. PPPL is enhancing the capabilities and user support for this tokamak simulation code, long the world standard for predicting and analyzing fusion experiments, to facilitate the operation of ITER and tokamak partners.

For Maingi, the new position marks the latest leadership post in a distinguished career. He currently is lead principal investigator for the national DOE Liquid Metal Plasma Facing Component Development Program, which is included in the new TES structure, and had been serving as deputy head of the NSTX-U Science Department, interim head of the ITER and Tokamaks Department, and investigator of boundary physics and liquid metals in tokamaks, a position he still holds within the NSTX-U department.

A Fellow of both the American Physical and American Nuclear societies, Maingi has chaired or co-chaired numerous national and international conferences, delivered more than 100 major presentations at technical conferences and seminars, and written as first author 35 papers in refereed journal articles or book chapters while serving as coauthor on about 1000 papers and presentations.

“This new department will eliminate stove piping where groups and individuals work in isolation,” he said. “We’re all working together to advance the development of fusion energy science.”

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 energy.gov/science.

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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