131. Plasma Physics Laboratory


In 1951, the University’s astronomy department chairman Lyman Spitzer *38 had theorized that under extreme heat, nuclear particles in ionized gas (plasma) would undergo fusion and release energy.  The Atomic Energy Commission approved of Spitzer’s concept for a device to generate this reaction known as a “stellarator,” and classified work on the world’s largest thermonuclear experiment under the code name “Project Matterhorn” soon began at the new Forrestal Research Center.  Various theoretical and experimental models were produced over the years, including the racetrack-shaped Model C Stellarator shown here in 1961.  The fusion project was declassified in 1958, which allowed for University graduate students to obtain instruction and take part in the field of plasma physics.  In 1961, Matterhorn was renamed the Plasma Physics Laboratory, a facility that today continues the search for ways to harness the power of fusion for peaceful applications.

  • To learn more about the history of science at Princeton, see icon #2, 5, 6, and 7, quotation #9, 27, 34, and 39, and Café Vivian picture #14, 15, 22, 25, 32, 35, 41, 43, 51, 64, 75, 78, 83, 87, 90, and 114.

  • To learn more about the Forrestal Research Center, see quotation #27 and Café Vivian picture #35, 114, and 122.

  • To learn more about Lyman Spitzer, see Café Vivian picture #37.

  • To learn more about notable Princeton graduate alumni, see quotation #3, 5, 30, 31, and 34 and Café Vivian picture #59 and 70.