A timeline of innovation and impact at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

March 17, 2022, noon

The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is the U.S. national laboratory with the mission to develop the scientific foundation for the creation of fusion energy, the power source of the sun and the stars. 

Fusion energy research in the United States began at PPPL, and the lab's 71-year history offers a glimpse into some of the key innovations in fusion energy development, along with fundamental discoveries in plasma sciences and associated technologies. PPPL scientists have set and then broken their own world records for the hottest ion temperatures ever generated, won the Nobel Prize in physics, and contributed to work on advancements in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, nanotechnology, and even food safety.

1955 Princeton University astronomy professor Lyman Spitzer establishes Project Matterhorn, the predecessor to PPPL. He builds the Model A “stellarator,” or “star generator” the first such fusion device of its kind. It uses magnets to guide plasma along a figure-8-shaped path.
1960s Model C stellarator Project Matterhorn is renamed the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in 1961. The Model C stellarator begins operating the following year. After scientists in the Soviet Union shows that a new magnetic configuration, a doughnut-shaped fusion device called a “tokamak,” had improved performance, PPPL converts the Model C into a tokamak in the late 1960s.
1970s: 1974, Congress approves the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) project. TFTR will be the first magnetic fusion device in the world to conduct experiments with a 50-50 mixture of deuterium and tritium, the fuels likely to be used in fusion power plants of the 21st century. 1978, The Princeton Large Torus experiment sets a world record for ion temperatures of 60 million degrees Celsius.
1980s 1982, TFTR produces its first plasma on Dec. 24. 1986, TFTR produces world record ion temperatures of approximately 200 million degrees Celsius—more than 10 times the temperature at the center of the sun.
1990, TFTR sets world records for ion  temperxature—400 million degrees Celsius—and fusion power production—60,000 watts.  •	1993, PPPL physicist Russell Hulse shares the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the first binary pulsar. • In December 1993, TFTR achieves a world-record 6.3 million watts of fusion power in the world's first magnetic fusion experiments with a 50-50 mixture of deuterium and tritium.
•1999, PPPL begins operating a new spherical tokamak, the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX), a compact device shaped more like a cored apple than a conventional doughnut-shape that has the potential to lead to a smaller pilot plant that produces more economical fusion electricity.
2002, PPPL engineers develop the Miniature Integrated Nuclear Detection System (MINDS) a portable anti-terrorism system that can be used to scan moving vehicles, luggage and containers for nuclear materials.  • 2004, NSTX successfully confines plasma at higher pressures for a given magnetic field strength when compared to a conventional tokamak, showing the potential of the spherical tokamak to produce fusion at a lower cost
• 2008 The Lithium Tokamak Experiment (LTX),  which is designed to explore the use of lithium as a coating for the inner wall of a tokamak, produces its first plasma.
2011, PPPL begins an upgrade of NSTX that doubles the plasma current, makes the magnetic field more powerful, and increases the length of plasma pulses from one to five seconds.  • 2013, PPPL and U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers team up on a technology to pasteurize eggs in the shell without damaging the delicate egg white by using radio frequency, a technology modified from its fusion experiments.
• 2016, The National Spherical Torus Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U) begins operations and quickly show improved plasma performance until experiments are stopped later that year to repair a magnet.         A new and larger Low Temperature Plasma Laboratory opens focused on nanotechnology and plasma applications.   • 2017, PPPL completes delivery of U.S. share of the steady-state electrical network that will provide 120 megawatts of non-pulsed power to ITER, the international tokamak under construction in France
2019 PPPL begins an apprenticeship program, the first-in-the nation registered U.S. Department of Labor program for technicians in fusion energy and engineering.        The Lithium Tokamak Experiment completes a major upgrade to test lithium wall coatings at a fusion-relevant level of plasma temperature and density.
• 2020, PPPL and Princeton University launch the Princeton Collaborative Low Temperature Plasma Research Facility (PCRF), which focuses on research with applications in microchip manufacturing and quantum electronics. • 2021, A panel of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine chaired by PPPL physicist Richard J. Hawryluk recommends the U.S. design and build a fusion-powered pilot plant to demonstrate fusion’s ability to produces net electricity and make it operational by the 2030s.
2022, PPPL begins removing legacy components from the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor to repurpose the test cell—one of the largest experimental spaces in the U.S.—to provide laboratory research space for private fusion energy companies. PPPL receives funding from the DOE’s Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE) for a research project with Renaissance Fusion to explore how artificial intelligence could be used in the design of stellarators. It is the 13th such project to be awarded to PPPL since t
Top White House and U.S. Department of Energy leaders visit PPPL to discuss how to accelerate the development of fusion energy as a carbon-free method to generate safe, clean, and abundant electricity using the same process that powers  the sun and the stars.

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