Biography and History

Project Matterhorn was the code name for the controlled thermonuclear research effort started by Princeton University in 1951 under the leadership of Lyman Spitzer. Spitzer was born on June 26, 1914 in Toledo, Ohio. He earned a BA in Physics at Yale University in 1935 and later studied Astrophysics with Henry Norris Russell at Princeton University. Following his PhD. in Astrophysics in 1938, Spitzer held the position of a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University.

In 1951, Spitzer outlined the basic concept for creating the steallarator, a device for confining and heating ionized hydrogen gas to release fusion energy for the production of power. He was able to receive support from the US Atomic Energy Commission as well as Princeton University which lay the foundation for starting Project Matterhorn. Project Matterhorn (PM) became later Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (1961), which Spitzer directed until 1967. During his tenure, Spitzer would oversee major breakthroughs in a field he helped develop. Many of his contributions to the field are to be found in his renowned book, Physics fo Fully Ionized Gases (Wiley, 1956).

Lyman Spitzer Jr. died on March 31, 1997. He left behind many grateful friends and admiring colleagues he had inspired during his exemplary career. His legacy is to be found largely in the technology that still struggles to catch up to his visions.

Source: From the finding aid for PPL001