PRINCETON — The same week that a New Jersey resident became the oldest Nobel Prize laureate, a New Jersey laboratory was honored for its decades of achievement in science.

Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, a joint venture between the United States Department of Energy and Princeton University, was recognized as a historic landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The lab, which was built in the 1950's, continues to be on the cutting edge of developing new technologies, especially when it comes to energy production.

"We are honored to receive this landmark designation," lab director Steve Cowley said. "Our mechanical engineers design and build highly complex machines that our scientists use to explore controlled fusion energy."

Photo by Elle Starkman/ PPPL Office of Communications
Photo by Elle Starkman/ PPPL Office of Communications

The focus of most of the lab's work is to develop magnetically controlled fusion energy. A statement from the lab announcing the designation noted that it is part of a global effort "seeking to replication fusion on Earth for a virtually inexhaustible supply of power to generate electricity."

"Developing these devices takes the focused attention of teams of highly skilled engineers who spend ears designing and realizing their projects," head of engineering Valeria Riccardo said.

Samuel W. Bodman

Located just off the busy Route 1 corridor it's likely people driving by have no idea they are passing a world-class scientific destination. On its website the lab provides 10 facts to help explain fusion energy:

  • It’s natural. In fact, it’s abundant throughout the universe. Stars – and there are billions and billions of them – produce energy by fusion of light atoms.
    It’s safe.
  • There are no dangerous byproducts. It produces some radioactive waste, but that requires only decades to decay, not thousands of years. Further, any byproducts are not suitable for production of nuclear weapons.
  • It’s environmentally friendly. Fusion can help slow climate change. There are no carbon emissions so fusion will not contribute to a concentration of greenhouse gases that heat the Earth. And it helps keep the air clean.
  • It’s conservation-friendly. Fusion helps conserve natural resources because it does not rely on traditional means of generating electricity, such as burning coal.
    It’s international. Fusion can help reduce conflicts among countries vying for natural resources due to fuel supply imbalances.
  • It’s unlimited. Fusion fuel – deuterium and tritium – is available around the world. Deuterium can be readily extracted from ordinary water. Tritium can be produced from lithium, which is available from land deposits or from seawater.
  • It’s industrial scale. Fusion can power cities 24 hours a day regardless of weather.
    It’s exciting. Fusion produces important scientific and engineering breakthroughs and spinoffs in its own and other fields.
  • It’s achievable. Fusion is produced in laboratories around the world and research is devoted to making it practicable.
  • It’s the Future. Fusion can transform the way the world produces energy.

Earlier this week 96-year-old Arthur Ashkin was among the winners of the Nobel Prize for in physics for his work with lasers. Ashkin worked at Bell Labs in Holmdel where he developed "optical tweezers" which can be used to grab tiny particles without damaging them.

The Nobel committee said the tweezers "created entirely new opportunities for observing and controlling the machinery of life."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report

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