DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Lab names new director

The U.S. Department of Energy‘s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory announced Wednesday it has named Steven Cowley its new director, effective July 1.

Cowley, a theoretical physicist and expert on fusion energy, will become the seventh director of the PPPL, which is one of 10 national science laboratories funded by the DOE’s Office of Science.

“Steve’s background and experience are ideal for leadership of PPPL,” said David McComas, vice president for PPPL and professor of astrophysical sciences. “I am delighted that we were able to recruit him to PPPL and am looking forward to working with him very closely going forward.”

Cowley has experience with PPPL and Princeton, having earned his Ph.D. in astrophysical sciences from Princeton in 1985 and serving as a staff scientist at PPPL from 1987 to 1993. He also taught at the university.

In his new role, Cowley will be appointed professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton.

“Steve Cowley is a spectacularly good physicist and a proven leader of large-scale scientific projects. He understands and respects the missions of the Plasma Physics Laboratory, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and Princeton University,” said Christopher L. Eisgruber, president of Princeton University. “I am confident that Steve is the right person to take the reins of the laboratory today and guide it into the future.”

As director of PPPL, Cowley will be responsible for managing the laboratory. He will also lead PPPL’s scientific and technical programs in fusion energy science and technology, as well as investigate plasma science and provide leadership to the U.S. and world fusion energy efforts.

“I am delighted, privileged and enthused by the opportunity to lead PPPL,” Cowley said. “We have an exciting program to advance — including an essential upgrade of the innovative fusion experiment, NSTX. Working together with the talented staff of PPPL to hasten the delivery of fusion energy promises to be both scientifically and personally rewarding.”

Cowley previously served as president of Corpus Christi College and professor of physics at the University of Oxford since 2016. From 2008 to 2016, he was CEO of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and head of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. From 2004 to 2008, he was director of the Center for Multi-Scale Plasma Dynamics at the University of California-Los Angeles. He also served on the faculty of UCLA from 1993 to 2008, becoming a full professor in 2000. From 2001 to 2003, he was professor and head of the plasma physics group at Imperial College London, where he continued with part-time research and teaching until 2016.