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Engineer Russ Feder leads development of diagnostic tools for US ITER as physicist Dave Johnson shifts to part-time work

In a rare transition, engineer Russ Feder has stepped into a management job that a distinguished physicist last held. Feder leads PPPL’s development of all diagnostic tools for US ITER, which manages U.S. contributions to the international ITER experiment, succeeding physicist Dave Johnson in that role. “I’m excited to keep the momentum going and proud to be part of our strong team,” Feder said.  “I also recognize the tough challenges of the job and will need the help of our team and the U.S. diagnostics community to be successful.”

Feder previously served as head of engineering for the port plugs that the U.S. is developing for ITER, which is under construction in France to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion power. The plugs will house seven types of diagnostic instruments to be used in ITER operations. Now Feder is responsible for the crucial instruments as well — a task for which the versatile engineer is well-prepared.

“Russ brings a strong engineering background and first-hand knowledge of US ITER diagnostics to his new position,” said Mike Williams, head of engineering and infrastructure at PPPL. “He has worked extensively with the U.S. and international ITER organizations and is well-respected by all participants.”

The job became open when Johnson, a top designer of diagnostic equipment during a 40-year career at PPPL, decided to hand-off the diagnostics post and move to part-time work. He remains head of the ITER Fabrication Department, which oversees all Laboratory work on ITER, and will manage construction of one of the seven diagnostic systems.

“Dave’s contributions to the development of diagnostic instruments for fusion plasmas are widely known,” said PPPL Director Stewart Prager. “He leads the ITER Fabrication Department with a steady hand and remains a highly valued participant in the Lab’s ITER projects.”

Appetite for learning

Feder, whose career has included analyzing deck-mounted structures for nuclear submarines, joined PPPL in 2000 as a mechanical engineer and quickly displayed his versatility and appetite for learning. He earned a certificate in optical engineering from Stevens Technical Institute while designing diagnostics for Laboratory experiments and completed an online master’s degree in nuclear engineering from Penn State University after moving to work on ITER. “I like learning and would be a student forever if I could,” Feder says.

His new job poses fresh challenges. Among them will be managing budgets and schedules for the design, development and delivery of the ITER diagnostic systems, working with planning and control officer Skip Schoen and schedule analyst Emil Nassar. Coming up fast are preliminary design reviews to be held in 2016 and 2017 at ITER headquarters in Cadarache, France. “They will be our biggest next step,” Feder said.

For Johnson, going part-time marks the latest move in a career filled with achievements ranging from directing diagnostics for the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor to leading the development of PPPL diagnostics in support of the Lab’s activities in fusion facilities around the world.  “A year ago I spoke with management about slowing down,” he recalled. “This will leave more time for visiting family, enjoying a second home in Vermont, and pursuing new interests.”

As part of the transition, Johnson and Feder have traded offices. Johnson now sits at Feder’s old desk on the third-floor engineering side of the Lyman Spitzer Building, while Feder has moved into Johnson’s former space, complete with a row of window-sill cactuses, near the Director’s Office. One cactus is missing though: Support Administrator Kathleen Lukazik, who potted and cares for the plants, relocated a particularly expansive one to see how it would fare in Johnson’s new quarters.

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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