Lab Hosts First-Ever Community Sustainability Celebration

Written by
Jeanne Jackson DeVoe
Oct. 24, 2023

The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) hosted its first Community Sustainability Celebration last month despite the torrential rain, with some 200 people in attendance.

The Sept. 23 event highlighted PPPL’s commitment to sustainability through the development of fusion energy and its expanded mission into sustainable technologies. It featured exhibits from some 20 environmental groups, electric bus rides to tour the PPPL grounds and plasma demonstrations by PPPL’s science education team, as well as talks by Steve Cowley, PPPL director, and Ted Borer, director of the energy plant in Princeton University’s Office of Sustainability.

Organized by PPPL's Green Team 

The event was organized by PPPL’s Green Team and led by Andrew Zwicker, head of strategic relationships and public engagement. “Our first sustainability event was such a huge success,” Zwicker said. “I’m thrilled with the turnout and how many people contributed to give our community the opportunity to learn about the Lab and our sustainability efforts. I want to give a huge shoutout to the Green Team who worked so hard on this event.”

Cowley, who first envisioned the event, told the audience that developing fusion energy as a clean, green and carbonless energy source is “the great challenge of the 21st century.” He noted that private companies have invested billions of dollars into bringing fusion energy to market. “It’s an exciting time,” Cowley said. “We have to get fusion on the grid. Fusion will cure all of our energy problems. It’s all about producing fusion energy for the planet.”

Learning about sustainability at PPPL

Visitors who braved the downpour said they were interested in learning more about sustainability and PPPL’s research. “I’m an electrical engineer, and there’s some cool things about sustainability happening in this place,” said Mathilde Burlion of South Brunswick, who brought her children Sarah, 11, and Colombe, 8.

Prasanth Nair, of Plainsboro, said he and his children Nakhio, 11, and Nira, 7, enjoyed seeing PPPL. “We drive by here all the time, and every time we drive by, we talk about fusion,” he said. “It’s so cool that we can actually come in and learn about the science!”

Visitors said they liked visiting the exhibits, where they got free plants from Wildflower Farm courtesy of PPPL and learned about electric vehicles, sustainable gardening and local environmental groups. “It was good,” said Steve Hiltner, from Friends of Herrontown Woods, one of the exhibitors. “We had a lot of people come by and had some good conversations with people who didn’t know us before.”

Volunteer Margaret Porcelli, a graduate student at PPPL who worked at the science education booth, said she enjoyed the experience. “I think it went really well,” she said. “It’s exciting to see everyone coming together and all the community groups that participated.”

Margaret Porcelli, a graduate student at PPPL who worked at the science education booth, shows visitors a magnet.

Margaret Porcelli, a graduate student at PPPL who worked at the science education booth, shows visitors a magnet. (Photo by Elle Starkman/PPPL Office of Communications)

More than 40 PPPL staff members volunteered at the event, and their friends and family helped set up booths, greet visitors and staff the science education demonstrations.

Margaret Kevin-King, the leader of the Green Team, thanked Zwicker for leading the event, Cowley and the executive management team for their support, the exhibitors, the speaker Ted Borer, staff from Facilities and Site Services, Site Protection, Science Education and Communications Departments, and all the volunteers, especially the Green Team. “It was an A+ awesome event,” she said. “Sustainability is the heart of what PPPL does, and I am delighted, grateful and excited for what we accomplished.”

The event was so successful that planning has already begun for next year’s celebration. More details will follow.

Steve Cowley, PPPL director, along with volunteers and staff who worked at the celebration.
Steve Cowley, PPPL director, along with volunteers and staff who worked at the celebration. (Photo by Elle Starkman/Office of Communications) 

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 https://energy.gov/science and https://www.pppl.gov.