Plasma Physics - History

Plasma Physics Library


From its early inception, the Plasma Physics Library supported through its resources, the University Library's resources and its services, the laboratory's mission and vision.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a Collaborative National Center for plasma and fusion science. Its primary mission is to develop the scientific understanding and the key innovations which will lead to an attractive fusion energy source.

Associated missions include conducting world-class research along the broad frontier of plasma science and providing the highest quality of scientific education. The vision of the laboratory is to create the innovations which will make fusion power a practical reality.

History of the Plasma Physics Library: 1951-1969

The Library began in the 1950s as a collection of theoretical papers. Katherine Weimer, who joined the Theoretical Division in 1955, did much to build up the holdings at that time. In 1961 steps were taken to broaden the coverage and to define a set of policies. It was determined that exhaustive acquisition in the field of theoretical and experimental controlled thermonuclear research [CTR] should be complemented by selective acquisition in engineering sciences, applied mathematics, and other relevant areas. New quarters assigned at C-site made possible a significant expansion.

Elizabeth Graydon succeeded to the position of PPL Librarian in 1962. Under her direction thousands of reports, conference proceedings, and reprints of published journal articles were acquired; circulation and collection development policies were defined; journal articles, technical reports, and books were catalogued; a monthly acquisitions list was produced; and bibliographical assistance was rendered to a steadily growing number of library users. Library holdings increased by about 7,600 items between 1961 and 1969, and the original small collection of theoretical papers developed into on of the most complete CTR libraries of the world. The catalog is now published for general use.

Staff member: Pia Friedrich - 1962

History of the Plasma Physics Library: 1962-1972

The Plasma Physics Laboratory began with the creation of a program in fusion research called Project Matterhorn, at Princeton University in 1952. The work was declassified in 1958, and in 1961 the name of the laboratory changed to its present form [Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory] to denote the growing scope of its research efforts; basic plasma physics, astrophysics and space physics, as well as the expansion of studies in controlled fusion. A small collection of reports, journal and monographs housed in a vault composed the early library. In 1960, Firestone Library [main Princeton University library] was asked to obtain a librarian as the collection started to expand rapidly after declassification. When asked to become the librarian in 1961, Elizabeth Graydon accepted the challenge with enthusiasm, for much work had to be done. Under the direction of Dr. E.C. Tanner, chairman of the Library Committee, PPL Library undertook to fully catalog the reports collection as well as the few books, as most of the literature in this new field resided in reports and journal articles.

The laboratory recognizing the need for this cataloging program obtained two college freshman to work for three summers in order to complete this work [1962/1963].

The Acquisition List, which was begun in 1960, grew in size, scope, and format, so that currently [1972] 141 copies are distributed. [Note: as of July 1998 the acquisitions list is distributed via the Internet. A list of new acquisitions can be found at]. The monthly list from 1960-1998 was unique in that it was reproduced from actual catalog cards.

During the years [between 1960 to 1970] the library [grew] considerably. The emphasis is now changing, however, due to the success of the work performed at the laboratory. In early years we were primarily concerned with the staff members of the Theoretical Division. In the middle years [1960-1969], as the experiments on fusion devices were progressing, we found the Experimental Division calling with more frequency upon the library. In 1971 we were asked to add a new dimension to the library, by creating the Fusion Power Library. This was brought about because Dr. Robert G. Mills was asked to head the Reactor Studies Group. This is a group of engineers and physicists from this laboratory as well as from laboratories and industry throughout the world, who have been asked to explore the feasibility of developing a toroidal fusion power reactor. This small library, housed in the Engineering Division, contains about 1,000 reports, reprints, monographs, symposia and journals devoted to Energy, Electric Power and Reactor Studies. This collection is fully cataloged and a card catalog listing all items is maintained. Also, complete catalog card sets are filed in the main catalog.

This new project had been very challenging, and to see this collection being used with great frequency is a source of satisfaction. Further, we look forward to this collection being used by other staff members of the University.

After ten years we can compare figures and see growth.

1962   1972


The cooperation, appreciation, and interest evidenced by the PPL Staff are most gratifying, The operation of this library, today more than ever, is a challenging and stimulating experience.

Elizabeth H. Graydon 
July 5, 1972

History of the Plasma Physics Library: 1980s

Plasma Physics Librarians:

Judith H. Frazier July 1, 1991; Retired August 1996 
Jane Holmquist 1984 - 1991 
Mary Chaikin 1983 

Converted to GEAC circulation system.

Staff Members:

Sharon Brown 
Luan Huang

History of the Plasma Physics Library: 1990's

Plasma Physics Librarians:Judith H. Frazier July 1, 1991; Retired August 1996 First web reports introduced. Mitchell C. Brown July 1, 1999 - July 1, 2001 PPLCat, the library reports catalog migrated from SPIRES platform to MS Access client and web interface. The catalog has been updated with backfile entries for Matterhorn reports. A library web site has been established. Shelving space has been added.

Staff member: Luan Huang

History of the Plasma Physics Library: the 2000s

Harold P. Furth Library -- Plasma Physics Library Renamed in Honor of Harold Furth (April 25, 2002)

On  April 25, 2002, Princeton University has changed the name of thePrinceton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) Library to honor former PPPL Director Harold Furth, who died in February. The dedication of the Harold P. Furth Library followed a 1 p.m. memorial service at the Laboratory.

Furth, a pioneer in the U.S. fusion program and the originator of the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor project, died February 21, 2002 in Philadelphia at the age of 72. Furth was a giant of fusion science and a person of untiring energy and boundless optimism. He was Director of PPPL from 1981 through  1990 and a Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University from 1967 to 1999, when he became Professor Emeritus.

Furth made a career of research on controlled fusion, making countless contributions to the science of fusion plasmas (a hot, ionized gas) and the fundamentals of plasma physics. He provided scientific and managerial leadership to the world fusion program throughout his career. Furth, who was active in research at PPPL and a regular library user until shortly before his death, held more than 20 patents and had published more than 200 technical papers.

The library is a national resource for information on plasma physics and nuclear fusion. Its highly specialized collections provide essential support for the Laboratory's research and for graduate students in the Program in Plasma Physics and the Program in Plasma Science and Technology.

Much of the Library's material is unique within the Princeton University Library system. The collection consists of monographs, serials, conference proceedings, dissertations, indexes and abstracts, and technical reports, in print, microfiche, and electronic formats. As of June 2004, the total number of volumes, including bound serial volumes held at the library was 18239.

Staff members: 
Adriana Popescu, Plasma Physics Librarian (2001- 2012)
Shannon Belloni, Special Collections Assistant (2002-2004)
Judith E. Shipley, Special Collections Assistant (2005-)
Willow Dressel, Plasma Physics Librarian (2009-)

Publications about the Plasma Physics Laboratory
Tanner, Earl C. 

Project Matterhorn : an informal history.

[Princeton, N.J.] : Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory, 1982. Revised. 
DESCRIPTION: vii, 81 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.
Plasma Physics (PPL) QC718.615.U62 P747 1982

Tanner, Earl C. 

The first Princeton tokamaks : an informal history, 1970-1980

[Princeton, N.J.] : Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory, 1982. 
DESCRIPTION: viii, 246 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.
Plasma Physics (PPL) QC718 .615.U62 P7475 
Mudd Library (Mudd) QC718 .615.U62 P7475 
Plasma Physics (PPL) QC718 .615.U62 P7475 
Astrophysics Lib.(SO) QC718 .615.U62 P7475

Tanner, Earl C. 

The Model C decade : an informal history.

[Princeton, N.J.] : Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory, 1980. 
DESCRIPTION: 247 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.
Plasma Physics (PPL) QC718 .615.U62 P7474 
Mudd Library (Mudd) QC718 .615.U62 P7474 
Plasma Physics (PPL) QC718 .615.U62 P7474 
Astrophysics Lib.(SO) QC718 .615.U62 P7474

History of PPPL 
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Personnel