#b#Reactor Breaks; Director Resigns#/b#

The fusion reactor at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is broken and has been taken offline, a mishap that has precipitated the departure of Stewart Prager, the director who oversaw a recent $94 million upgrade of the research device.

“It has been a wonderful experience being lab director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. But at the seven-year mark last January I began to think about moving on to the next phase of my life,” Prager said in a prepared statement. “The recent technical setback in the NSTX-U facility unexpectedly and suddenly defines a moment that seems to me appropriate for that transition. It is best for new, continuing leadership to shepherd the rebuilding of the facility and the engineering changes that will be needed over the next year.”

The laboratory is owned by the Department of Energy and run under contract by Princeton University. About 500 people work at the facility, which has an annual budget of about $100 million. Scientists and engineers there are attempting to turn nuclear fusion into a clean energy source that could in theory be extraordinarily safe and cheap. Prager, who is a professor of astrophysics at Princeton, will continue to do research at the lab following a year’s sabbatical.

The long-planned NSTX-U upgrade of the fusion reactor involved building a new magnetic core of the reactor. Over two years, a team of 10 painstakingly constructed 36 350-pound copper coils that make up the extremely powerful electromagnet capable of heating plasma to millions of degrees. “The work had to be done with absolute precision because a single flake of metal in the wrong place would have created a spark and turned the machine into a multimillion-dollar paperweight,” U.S. 1 wrote in December, 2015, when the machine was brought online.

One of those coils failed in August. The PPPL said that two teams of researchers are now studying the malfunction to determine exactly what caused it and how to fix it, and that repairs might not begin for another year. In the meantime, the reactor is inoperable.

Terry Borg, deputy director for operations and COO, will be interim director. His former post will be filled by Stacia Zelick, CIO and head of IT. The lab is now searching for a successor.

#b#Physics Professor Wins Nobel Prize#/b#

Princeton University professor F. Duncan Haldane has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics, sharing the prize for “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter” with David Thouless of the University of Washington and J. Michael Kosterlitz of Brown.

The prize committee said the trio studied mathematical methods for studying unusual states of matter such as in superconductors, superfluids, and thin magnetic films.

Haldane, a Princeton professor since 1990, earned his B.A. in 1973 and Ph.D. in 1978, both from the University of Cambridge.

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