Since 1951, the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has conducted research aimed at developing controlled nuclear fusion as an energy alternative to fossil fuels. Founded by Lyman Spitzer *38, the PPPL is a joint project of Princeton University and the US Department of Energy, located on Princeton’s James Forrestal Campus. This 1989 publicity film highlights the PPPL’s history, projects, and progress toward its mission of developing sustainable nuclear fusion.
The film’s focus is the PPPL’s main experiment in the 1980s and 1990s, the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR). This device used magnetic fields to contain a plasma made of hydrogen isotopes which were heated to a temperature so high that their nuclei fuse together into a new molecule, generating energy as a byproduct. TFTR’s goal was to develop a process of generating more energy through the fusion than the amount of electricity required to power the reactor containing the plasma. By 1989, TFTR’s successes included achieving a then record-temperature of 200 million degrees Celsius and confirming existence of a so-called “bootstrap current” within plasmas.