Nathaniel Fisch, Princeton University Professor and PPPL scientist, wins E.O. Lawrence Award


Nathaniel Fisch, a Princeton University professor and a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), is among seven winners of the 2004 E.O. Lawrence Award. Each winner receives a gold medal, a citation, and $50,000. The award is given in categories for outstanding contributions in the field of atomic energy, broadly defined.

"We are all enriched by the contributions these researchers have made ranging from engines with no moving parts to better ways to see the stars," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "These awards, and the research for which they are given, show that DOE could easily be called the Department of Science and Energy." Secretary Abraham announced the recipients today. The Lawrence Awards will be presented at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on November 8.

Fisch is receiving the award in the nuclear technology category for his discovery of ways to use plasma waves to produce electric current. Plasma is a hot, ionized gas that serves as the fuel for nuclear fusion. These wave-induced currents can enable fusion reactors, called tokamaks, to operate continuously, which is necessary for an economical and practical fusion reactor.

Fisch specializes in theoretical plasma physics with applications to controlled nuclear fusion, plasma devices, lasers, and astrophysics. At Princeton University, Fisch is Professor of Astrophysical Sciences and Director of the Program in Plasma Physics. He also is an Associated Faculty member in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. At PPPL, he is Associate Director for Academic Affairs and Head of the Laboratory's Hall Thruster Experiment.

Pointing to the continuing impact of Fisch's ideas, PPPL Director Rob Goldston said, "Professor Fisch's analyses of techniques to use radio waves to drive electrical currents in plasmas are as elegant and insightful as they are practical. His theoretical work, and close collaboration with the experimental team on the Princeton Large Torus, opened the way for a wide range of experiments and further analyses, and led to a substantial field of research on current-drive in toroidal plasmas. Indeed, sustainment of currents using radio waves may prove to be an essential ingredient in the steady-state operation of fusion power systems." The Princeton Large Torus was an experimental fusion device at PPPL.

Scott Tremaine, Chair of Princeton University's Astrophysical Sciences Department, praised Fisch for his influential role in shaping graduate education in plasma physics. "For over a decade, Nat has headed the Program in Plasma Physics at Princeton University, which is widely recognized as one of the world's premier graduate programs in plasma physics. Under Nat's guidance, Princeton has trained the generation of extremely talented young researchers who may transform the dream of controlled fusion energy to reality. Nat is committed to the concept that both universities and national laboratories benefit from close cooperation in research and education in plasma physics," said Tremaine.

Fisch studied electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving a B.S. in 1972, an M.S. in 1975, and a Ph.D. in 1978. Fisch is a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS). He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985, the 1992 APS Award for Excellence in Plasma Physics, and a Department of Energy Bronze Medal for Outstanding Mentor 2002. Fisch is the author or co-author of more than 200 research papers and has been granted nine U.S. patents. He is a resident of Princeton Borough.

The other winners of this year's Lawrence Award are: Bette Korber, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Los Alamos, N.M.; Claire Max, University of California, Santa Cruz, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Livermore, Calif.; Fred Mortensen, LANL; Richard J. Saykally, University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Ivan Schuller, University of California, San Diego; and, Gregory W. Swift, LANL. Additional information on the winners and their work is available on the web at

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