Newswise — Alex Nagy, an engineer who for four decades has been working on ways to heat and fuel plasmas in experiments aimed at harnessing the process that powers the sun and stars, was named a Distinguished Engineering Fellow by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) at the State of the Lab address on Dec. 20. 

Nagy was honored for “creative designs of plasma heating and fueling systems employed in fusion devices worldwide.” The fellowship is part of PPPL’s Distinguished Research and Engineering Fellow Program and comes with a cash award.

Among numerous accomplishments, Nagy led a team of technicians and engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) DIII-D National Fusion Facility at General Atomics (GA) to develop a steerable neutral beam as part of the DIII-D upgrade completed in 2018. The more than 50-ton neutral beam system can be moved to various positions to allow researchers to vary the precise angle at which neutral beams can be injected into the plasma to control and heat the plasma to the super-hot temperatures necessary for fusion experiments. 

In addition, Nagy, along with PPPL physicist Alessandro Bortolon and PPPL student intern David Mauzey, expanded the capabilities of a powder dropper originally invented at PPPL for lithium injection to a device that can inject any other powdered materials into plasma during fusion experiments at DIII-D to improve performance. He is currently developing a toroidal field reversing switch for DIII-D that will be able to reverse the direction of the toroidal magnetic field in one minute between plasma pulses.

“Alex is a first-rate engineer.  I'm very happy to see him recognized with this award, he is very deserving" said Valeria Riccardo, head of engineering. "Alex is energetic and creative and serves as a vital link between PPPL and General Atomics." 

Now a principle PPPL senior engineer at DIII-D, Nagy heads PPPL’s engineering collaborations division, which works on collaborations worldwide. He also supervises advanced real-time plasma control systems engineering.

Nagy said he was “floored” to learn he was named PPPL’s Distinguished Engineering Fellow. “I’m honored and pleased,” he said from his office at DIII-D. “I didn’t expect this at all.” He accepted the award remotely from DIII-D in San Diego.

“I like challenges and I like coming up with ideas that are innovative and out of the box, and Princeton engineering also does that very successfully as well. Being at GA I relish the times when both PPPL and GA work together to meet an engineering challenge,” Nagy said. 

Nagy started at PPPL in 1977 as a technician on the  Princeton Large Torus before becoming an engineer. He later was chief operating engineer on the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) and worked on diagnostics for the device. He was the tritium operations inventory engineer for the full four-year experiment from 1993 to 1997.

When Nagy went to GA as a collaborator in 1997 he expected to spend just a year, but quickly got involved in numerous projects and is still there. He started as a chief operator on DIII-D, moving into management of the fast wave radio frequency heating system,  and is currently lead engineer for special projects. His most recent completed project is the DIII-D’s recent neutral beam conversion to a tilting and rotating configuration.

Nagy has two patent disclosures on the powder dropper, with two more in progress. The device is installed on DIII-D and fusion experiments in Germany, China, South Korea and Japan, with plans to install them on the WEST (W Environment in Steady-State Tokamak) in France in the spring.

In addition to his engineering work, Nagy has been active in science education at DIII-D. He was the manager of the Scientist-In-the-Classroom program for 15 years. He and Rick Lee, the manager or the GA fusion outreach program, have given more than 200 presentations  to more than 75,000 students over the past 20 years presenting the “General Atomics Rick and Alex Science Show” as part of the Science Technology Education Partnership (STEPCON).

Nagy has two bachelor’s degrees – one in electrical engineering from the College of New Jersey and one in psychology from New Jersey Stockton State College.

A resident of San Diego, Nagy has been married to Kate Nagy for 39 years. They have a son, Peter, the manager of a music studio in San Diego. Nagy is an avid surfer who rides a motorcycle to work every day. A former Boy Scout troop scoutmaster, he now serves on San Diego Superior Court Judge Gill’s Eagle Scout Board of Review.

Nagy said he is driven by the vision of developing fusion energy as an affordable, plentiful and safe source of energy. “We’re trying to get fusion for the world,” he said. “That’s what keeps me motivated.”

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit