Princeton University Honors Columbia University Physicist Steven A. Sabbagh

Princeton University presented its 2013 Kaul Foundation Prize for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research and Technology Development to physicist Steven A. Sabbagh of the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics (APAM). Sabbagh received the award for his work on advancing the understanding, and enhancing the stability, of high-performance tokamak fusion plasmas. The award was presented by Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) director Stewart Prager immediately following his May 28th State-of-the-Laboratory Address.

Sabbagh, a senior research scientist and adjunct professor of applied physics at Columbia, is the first PPPL collaborator to receive the Kaul Prize, whose charter needed to be formally changed to allow the prize to be awarded to a long-term collaborator resident at PPPL. Former PPPL Director Ronald Davidson endowed the prize by giving Princeton University a portion of the gift he received as the 1993 recipient of the Award for Excellence in Science, Education and Physics from the Kaul Foundation in Tampa, Florida. Sabbagh has worked as a research scientist and has led a group of Columbia University researchers conducting experiments at PPPL for more than two decades. He has mentored students doing research at the Laboratory as well. “We’re very pleased to make this award to Steve,” said Michael Zarnstorff, PPPL deputy director for research. “We deeply value his contributions to the Lab and to the U.S. fusion program through the facilities here, and to the role that he’s played as a leader of experimental programs.”

Sabbagh began work as a full-time, on-site collaborator at PPPL after earning his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1990. He first created plasmas on the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) that significantly exceeded previous limits for a crucial factor called “beta”—the ratio of the pressure of the plasma to the strength of the magnetic field that confines it. The higher the beta, the more cost-effective the confinement. Sabbagh evolved this line of research to produce some of the highest fusion power in the eventual deuterium-tritium operation of TFTR.

Sabbagh next moved to the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX), where he investigated ways to stabilize plasma at high beta by controlling phenomena called resistive wall mode instabilities. His research produced record beta values that surpassed a stability milestone called the “no-wall limit” by as much as a factor of two. He plans to continue to advance such research when the NSTX upgrade is completed next year.

Sabbagh conducts complementary experiments on the KSTAR superconducting tokamak in South Korea and the DIII-D tokamak in San Diego, and has been awarded a number of honors. He received the International Atomic Energy Agency Nuclear Fusion Award in 2009, and was elected an American Physical Society Fellow in 2010. He lives in Warren, NJ with his wife, Mary Lepore-Sabbagh, who has worked in information technology for Bell Labs and Lucent Technologies.

By Steven Sabbagh & John Greenwald

Photo by Elle Starkman

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