Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

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Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory for plasma physics and nuclear fusion science located on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro Township, New Jersey. Its primary mission is research into and development of fusion as an energy source. It grew out of the top secret Cold War project to control thermonuclear reactions, called Project Matterhorn. In 1961, after declassification, Project Matterhorn was renamed the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.[1]



Lyman Spitzer, Jr., a professor of Astronomy at Princeton University, had for many years been involved in the study of very hot rarefied gases in interstellar space. Inspired by the fascinating but erroneous claims of controlled fusion achieved in Argentina by Ronald Richter, Spitzer was stimulated enough by the news to give further thought to fusion.[2] In 1950, he conceived of a plasma being confined in a figure-eight-shaped tube by an externally generated magnetic field, where the ionized hydrogen gas would fuse into helium, releasing energy for the production of power. He called this concept the stellarator, and took this design before the Atomic Energy Commission in Washington. As a result of this meeting and a review of the invention by designated scientists throughout the nation, the stellarator proposal was funded in 1951 as Project Matterhorn. In 1958, this magnetic fusion research was declassified following the 1955 United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. This generated an influx of graduate students eager to learn the "new" physics, which in turn influenced the lab to concentrate more on basic research.[3]

In the 1970s research at the PPPL refocused on the Russian tokamak design when it became evident that it was a more satisfactory containment design than the stellarator. By 1982, the PPL under the direction of Harold Furth had the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) online, which operated until 1997.[4] Beginning in 1993, TFTR was the first in the world to use 50/50 mixtures of deuterium-tritium. In 1994 it yielded an unprecedented 10.7 megawatts of fusion power.[4]

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