Lab Director Steve Cowley

Welcome to the eleventh annual issue of Quest, the research magazine of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).

This summer 2023 issue features scientific and national developments in 2022 that highlight the rapidly changing nature of our U.S Department of Energy National Laboratory managed by Princeton University. With a more than 70-year history, PPPL remains a longstanding leader in the development of fusion – a clean, safe and virtually limitless energy source. At the same time, we’re applying our expertise in plasma to enhance U.S. competitiveness in key areas like microelectronics, quantum information science and sustainability.

Indeed, energy transitions and climate change are the compelling challenges of our generation.

We remain devoted to developing the scientific knowledge and advanced engineering to enable fusion to power the U.S. and the world. Our mission further calls for us to advance the understanding of the plasma universe from the laboratory to the cosmic scale. Included is the science of plasma-based nanoscale fabrication and sustainable manufacturing for the technologies and industrial products of tomorrow.

It's clear that interest in fusion industry is accelerating. Leading off this issue is the White House summit last year at which I was invited to speak and expressed optimism about achieving a cost-competitive fusion power plant. “We understand how to make a plasma at 100 million degrees and how to hold it,” I said, “and that is an intellectual triumph that will drive us through to commercial fusion.” The summit emerged from the Biden-Harris initiative to reach zero-carbon initiatives by 2050 and previewed the Administration’s plan to provide $50 million to advance development of a fusion energy pilot plant. I’m pleased that we already have relationships with seven of the eight companies that received funding and will be formally partnering with five of them. 

We remain engaged in worldwide collaborations with public and private endeavors. High among them is ITER, the 35-nation fusion facility under construction in southern France. Our roles range from designing critical diagnostic equipment to proposing a means to avoid disruptions that can damage the 10-story-tall doughnut-shaped ITER tokamak. PPPL has also become the first affiliate to join the center led by Brookhaven National Laboratory that aims to develop the tools for quantum computers. The facility, called the Co-design Center for Quantum Advantage (C2QA), is one of five centers created under the National Quantum Initiative Act of 2018 to develop future computers. You can read about this alliance and the task of avoiding plasma disruptions in Collaborations. 

Further described in this issue is our exploration of the use of low-temperature plasma to produce increasingly capable and cost-effective microchips for fields ranging from electronics to health care to space exploration. Such plasmas can be room temperature, compared with the many million-degree plasmas that fuel fusion energy. Our microchip work is described in Advancing Plasma Science.

Also in this issue are sections on Advancing Fusion Theory; People; Education and Outreach; and Awards and Recognition.

Rapidly advancing on numerous fronts requires us to expand our campus to provide the space to pursue cutting-edge research, train the next generation of fusion scientists and recruit and retain leading physicists and engineers. Our Princeton Plasma Innovation Center (PPIC), slated to be constructed by 2026, will feature modern laboratories, together with ample collaboration and office space to accommodate staff growth and visiting researchers.

I hope you enjoy this issue and will remain in touch with us. You can do so by signing up to receive our public newsletter and can follow us on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube): @PPPLab.