Governor Phil Murphy (D-NJ) visits the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Written by
B. Rose Huber
March 10, 2023

Governor Phil Murphy (D-NJ) visited the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory for the first time March 6. 

He was joined by Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber and PPPL Director Steve Cowley for a one-hour tour, which focused on the Lab’s longstanding leadership in the science and innovation behind the development of fusion energy — a clean, safe, and virtually limitless energy source. Gov. Murphy also heard about the Lab’s expanded focus in microelectronics, quantum materials and devices, and sustainability science.

Governor Murphy tours PPPL
Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ), and PPPL Director Steve Cowley tour the facility. (Photo by Elle Starkman, PPPL)

The governor was flanked by Tim Sullivan, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Authority (NJEDA), and Jane Cohen, executive director of Gov. Murphy’s Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy. Princeton University tour participants included David McComas, vice president for PPPL and professor of astrophysics; Chelle Reno, assistant vice president for operations; and Julie Groeninger, director of government affairs. Sandra Rogan, manager of the Princeton Site Office, was also in attendance. 

“It was an honor to host Gov. Murphy, Tim Sullivan, and Jane Cohen, especially during this period of growth and expansion at the Laboratory,” said Cowley. “We’re building an inspired, diverse workforce committed to a clean energy future, and we have much to contribute to economic development in the state and the country. The Lab is a jewel of New Jersey; it was a tremendous pleasure for Gov. Murphy to see this firsthand.”

The visit was organized by PPPL and Princeton University’s Government Affairs and State Affairs Offices. Andrew Zwicker, head of strategic partnerships at PPPL, was among the lead organizers. “It was a pleasure to host Gov. Murphy, Tim Sullivan, and Jane Cohen so they could tour the Lab and learn how PPPL is driving innovation forward in the state and around the country,” Zwicker said.

The tour began with a visit to the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U), the Lab’s primary fusion experiment. The group heard from Stefan Gerhardt, senior managing research physicist; Jessica Guttenfelder, heating project engineer; and Joseph Winston, technical associate; all of whom are deeply involved in the project. Cowley and Jon Menard, deputy director for research and chief research officer at PPPL, gave an overview of the Lab’s mission, vision and core capabilities. The group also discussed the current state of fusion energy, including recent advances from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which, in December 2022, was able to achieve “fusion ignition,” or more energy output than input.

Along the way, the tour group met with Abigail Fellnor, a first-year electrical apprentice, and Kevin Purdy, a fourth-year mechanical technician apprentice. They join more than a dozen apprentices as part of the Lab’s four-year Apprenticeship Program, which is the first U.S. registered program in fusion energy and engineering.

Gov. Murphy meets with apprentices

Abigail Fellnor (left) and Kevin Purdy meet with Gov. Phil Murphy and PPPL Director Steve Cowley. (Photo by Elle Starkman, PPPL)

The nationally recognized program, which continues to grow, now serves as a model for other programs. The program was recently named an “apprenticeship ambassador” by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and received a $27,000 grant from the U.S. DOL and the New Jersey Department of Labor. The effort is supported by Diana Adel, program administrator, who also gave remarks during the tour.

Next, Gov. Murphy and the group visited the nearby Fusion Research and Technology Hub (FuRTH) Test Cell, where they met Ahmed Diallo, principal research physicist, and Mark Cropper, senior engineer. The group discussed public-private partnerships to accelerate commercial fusion, and how the FuRTH Test Cell could be a useful platform for such collaborations. The cell is the largest for fusion experiments in the U.S. and among the largest in the world.

The visit concluded with remarks from Emily Carter, who is leading the Applied Materials and Sustainability Sciences Department as its associate lab director. Carter, also a senior strategic advisor for sustainability science at PPPL, is the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment at Princeton University. 

Under Carter’s direction, the lab is using its expertise in plasma and computational science to stimulate the next wave of scientific innovation in nanoscale fabrication and sustainable manufacturing and maintain U.S. leadership in critical industries. To this end, Carter is leading the expansion of PPPL’s research focuses in microelectronics, quantum materials and devices, and sustainability science, which she discussed with Gov. Murphy and the group. She was joined by Nirbhav Chopra, a graduate student studying astrophysical science, whose work focuses on nanomaterials. 

The tour concluded with a meet and greet between participants and other members of PPPL’s executive management team including Kristen Fischer, chief financial officer; Michael Ford, associate laboratory director for engineering; and Timothy Meyer, deputy director for operations and chief operating officer.

Group poses with Gov. Murphy

Princeton University and PPPL leaders pose with Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ). (Photo by Elle Starkman, PPPL)

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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