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The National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX)

The largest project at PPPL today is the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX), which began operation in 1999 and is presently undergoing a major upgrade.

NSTX is a major element in the U.S. Fusion Energy Sciences Program. It is designed to test the physics principles of spherical torus (ST) plasmas. NSTX produces a plasma that is shaped like a sphere with a hole through its center, different from the “donut” shape of the tokamak. The NSTX was designed and built jointly by the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Columbia University, and the University of Washington, Seattle.

Cross-section of PPPL's NSTX facility

PPPL is upgrading its NSTX reactor over the next several years. Scheduled enhancements  are expected to double the temperature of the plasma and quintuple its duration, enabling scientists to further their understanding of plasma confinement and the production  of fusion reactions.

Background on PPPL

The U.S. Department of Energy’s 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 that will lead to an attractive fusion energy source. Associated missions include conducting world-class research along the broad frontier of plasma science and technology, and providing the highest quality of scientific education.

Princeton University manages PPPL under contract with the United States Department of Energy. The Laboratory is sited on 88 acres of Princeton University’s James Forrestal Campus, about four miles northeast of the main campus. PPPL’s 450-plus employees include faculty, physicists, engineers, technicians, administrators, clerical support staff, and graduate students. Its annual budget is approximately $88 million.


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