Steve Cowley

Lab Director Steve Cowley

Welcome to Quest

It is with great pleasure that I welcome readers to the 2022 issue of Quest, our annual research magazine. The past year has been an especially exciting one for the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) as White House scientific advisors have concurred with a recommendation by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that the U.S. move quickly to accelerate the development of fusion energy. The NAS panel, chaired by PPPL senior physicist Richard Hawryluk, called for an immediate national program to design and construct a compact fusion pilot plant to produce electricity at the lowest possible capital cost by the middle of this century.

The finding was welcome news for PPPL, the only one of the 17 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories devoted to reproducing on Earth the fusion energy that powers the sun and stars. Our Princeton University-managed Lab is uniquely positioned to advance the acceleration of this ideal source of clean, carbon-free energy. We already partner with private fusion industry companies to address the many scientific and technical issues that they face, and these collaborations will surely increase going forward. You will find a number of PPPL partnerships with firms ranging from Microsoft to startups in the pages on Collaborations in this magazine.

"PPPL is the only national laboratory devoted to reproducing on Earth the fusion energy that powers the sun and stars."

Recent advances in fusion science are highlighted in New Paths to Fusion Energy and Advancing Fusion Theory. Among New Paths developments are the arrival of Stellar, a new high-performance computer cluster that will greatly expand our computing capacity under Bill Dorland, associate laboratory director for computational science. In Fusion Theory, three stories outline applications of artificial intelligence that will strongly boost efforts to harvest fusion energy.

Also highlighted in this issue is our rapid expansion into broad new fields of study. Advancing Plasma Science pinpoints new paths for low-temperature plasma science under David Graves, associate laboratory director for low-temperature plasma surface interactions. Included is a piece on the quantum design for a next-generation diamond sensor together with the discovery of a chemical pathway for a nanomaterial — a state of matter thousands of times thinner than a human hair — that could lead to the widespread production of space suits, military vehicles and other industrial gear.

Along with these advances has been the arrival of new People in leadership positions ranging from deputy director for operations and chief operating officer to associate laboratory director for engineering. Our growing focus on equity, diversity and inclusion is displayed in Education & Outreach and the honors noted in Awards and Recognition demonstrate the key role of our Laboratory in advancing the science behind creating and controlling fusion energy to meet the ever-growing electric-power needs of humankind.

I hope that you enjoy this issue and plan to stay tuned here. Please also feel free to contact me here with any thoughts that you may have; I welcome your feedback and ideas.