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Princeton Weekly Bulletin   October 16, 2006, Vol. 96, No. 6   prev   next   current

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Princeton will compete to retain management of plasma physics lab

Princeton NJ — Citing 55 years of success in making the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) a world leader in magnetic fusion energy research, the University has announced that it will seek to continue managing the lab after the current management and operations contract expires.


PPPL Director Rob Goldston is shown here with the National Spherical Torus Experiment, a major innovative research facility operated by the lab. (photo: Elle Starkman)

“We are committed to making the strongest possible case for continuing to manage PPPL, as we have done successfully for many years,” said President Tilghman. “When the competition is initiated, we will submit to the Department of Energy a detailed proposal demonstrating how the laboratory will enjoy continued success under the University’s leadership. We are proud of the cutting-edge science and engineering the laboratory has accomplished, and we have great confidence that it will continue to make breakthrough discoveries in the years ahead.”

PPPL is one of 10 national science laboratories funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The department has initiated a series of competitive bidding processes for the management and operations contracts for these laboratories, and to date has announced — and in some cases, completed — competitions for eight of them.

The University learned in June that the Department of Energy plans to hold a competition for a new management and operations contract for the Princeton laboratory in spring 2007. The department has granted Princeton an extension of its current contract, which ended Sept. 30, until the open bidding process is complete.

Princeton has managed PPPL since its origins in 1951, when Professor Lyman Spitzer, a founder of the field of plasma physics, initiated the study of fusion at the University. The facility, which was officially named the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in 1961, performs advanced research on fusion energy, an environmentally benign and abundant energy source.

“Princeton’s proposal to retain its management and operations contract for PPPL will include innovative management initiatives and exciting scientific plans that will position the U.S. to take best advantage of the major international fusion energy initiative, called ITER, set for construction in France,” said Rob Goldston, director of PPPL and professor of astrophysical sciences at the University. “Our plans will help position this country ultimately to lead the world in the development of this important science and technology.”

PPPL has scored numerous major scientific and technological successes, including deepening the theoretical understanding of the very hot gases — called plasmas — that are used to produce fusion energy, and also setting a series of world records in the production of fusion power in experimental facilities.

The laboratory is currently operating a major innovative research facility, the National Spherical Torus Experiment, and is completing construction of a second critical facility for the study of fusion plasmas, the National Compact Stellarator Experiment.

According to A.J. Stewart Smith, the Class of 1909 Professor of Physics and chair of the University Research Board, Princeton’s efforts to encourage collaboration among researchers around the world have resulted in outstanding contributions over the years to all aspects of the international magnetic fusion energy program.

“Researchers from around the world participate in experiments at PPPL, and scientists from PPPL have performed work in Europe, Japan, the Soviet Union and the current Russian Federation,” Smith said. “They have assisted on many of the world’s leading fusion energy experimental facilities.”

Christopher Eisgruber, provost of the University, said the achievements of the world-famous laboratory have been a major factor in securing for Princeton “a top position among the world’s great research universities.”

More than 230 graduate students have received doctoral degrees from the University’s Department of Astrophysical Sciences Program in Plasma Physics since 1959. The students perform their thesis research using PPPL facilities, guided by researchers at the lab. During its history, the laboratory has generated a host of innovations in vacuum technology; mechanics and materials science; electronics; computer technology; and high-voltage power systems, in addition to many other fields.

“Princeton University is unswerving in its dedication to provide the financial resources and staff support required to develop a compelling proposal to continue to manage the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and to provide the conditions necessary to guarantee its continued success,” Eisgruber said.


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