Biography and History

The U.S. Department of Energy Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) is a Collaborative National Center for plasma and fusion science. Its primary mission is to develop the scientific understanding and the key innovations which will lead to a new fusion energy source.

Magnetic fusion research at Princeton began in 1951 under the code name Project Matterhorn. Lyman Spitzer, Jr., Professor of Astronomy at Princeton University, had for many years been involved in the study of very hot rarefied gases in interstellar space. Princeton University's controlled fusion effort was born when Professor Spitzer took his design of a plasma being confined in a figure-eight-shaped tube by an externally generated magnetic field, the "stellarator," before the Atomic Energy Commission in Washington. In 1958, magnetic fusion research was declassified allowing all nations to share their results openly.

Since the 1970s, PPPL has been a leader in magnetic confinement experiments utilizing the tokamak approach. PPPL researchers continue to lead work on advanced fusion devices and are developing other innovated concepts. Laboratory scientists are collaborating with researchers on fusion science and technology at other facilities, both domestic and foreign. Staff are applying knowledge gained in fusion research to a number of theoretical and experimental areas including materials science, solar physics, chemistry, and manufacturing.

Other directors, succeeding Mr. Spitzer (1951-1961), were Melvin B. Gottlieb (1961-1980), Harold P. Furth (1981-1990), Ronald C. Davidson (1991-1996) and Robert J. Goldston (1997-Present).

Dr. Earl C. Tanner joined the Princeton Plasma Laboratory (PPL), then known as Project Matterhorn, in 1958, was named Assistant Director in 1964, and retired from PPL in 1981.

Source: From the finding aid for AC332

  • Office of Research and Project Administration Records. 1938-2015 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC132

    The Office of Research and Project Administration acts as coordinator for all grants sought by the University, and also ensures the conformance of University practice with governmental regulations. The collection consists of annual reports, board minutes, policies, and interoffice correspondence of ORPA. Additionally, it contains files assembled for large-scale university research projects such as the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, as well as on research-related issues such as the use of human subjects and biosafety.

  • Office of Government Affairs Records. 1976-2003 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC213

    The Office of Government Affairs is Princeton University's primary representative in Washington, D.C., acting as a liaison between University administration and Capitol Hill politicians. The records document the activities of the Office of Government Affairs, and contain correspondence, event files, chronological files, news clippings, and materials pertaining to the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

  • Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Records. 1958-2015 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC332

    The U.S. Department of Energy Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) is a Collaborative National Center for plasma and fusion science. Its primary mission is to develop the scientific understanding and the key innovations which will lead to a new fusion energy source. The PPPL Records include digitized historical negatives and publications from the PPPL Communications Office, documenting the people, projects, events, activities and physical grounds of the laboratory through a span of 49 years.

  • Lyman Spitzer Papers. 1936-1997 (inclusive), 1960-1979 (bulk).

    Call Number: C0682

    Princeton professor of astronomy (1947-1982), chairman of the Dept. of Astrophysical Sciences, and director of the Princeton University Observatory, Lyman Spitzer was also primarily responsible for founding the University’s Plasma Physics Laboratory. His papers include design studies, technical plans and programs, various reports, correspondence, notes, and observations relating to his involvement in the development of the study of space astronomy at Princeton.