Newswise — David Zimmerman, a patent attorney and former physicist, has two decades of experience in transferring innovations from laboratories to the marketplace. He has been named to lead a new office in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory’s (PPPL): The Strategic Partnership Office.
As PPPL’s strategic partnership officer, Zimmerman has been tasked with promoting collaborations between the laboratory and private industry. The Strategic Partnership Office (“SPO”) will work to diversify PPPL’s research portfolio and expand the economic impact of the Lab.
“I am very happy to welcome David to the Laboratory,” said Kristen Fischer, PPPL’s chief financial officer and head of Business Operations. “His extensive experience and knowledge will help PPPL develop public-private partnerships as the Laboratory expands its mission into investigating low-temperature plasmas with applications for industries of the future.”
“When I heard that PPPL wants someone who can take a leadership role in broadening the portfolio of the Lab, it was incredibly attractive to me,” Zimmerman said. “I am very excited to be part of the team at a world-class laboratory like PPPL, even more so as I can apply my experience with and passion for business development and startups to building out the new Office of Strategic Partnerships.
The position was especially attractive, Zimmerman said, because he has long admired the physics research taking place at PPPL. “Each time I was asked in interviews, “why are you interested in PPPL?’ I would answer, ‘With all due respect, it’s the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab!’ I’ve had a number of careers but my experience in each one has been informed by my passion for physics.”
Directed technology commercialization at Stevens Institute
Zimmerman’s most recent positions have been director of technology commercialization at the Stevens Institute of Technology and director of licensing at Rutgers University.
He began his career as a physicist. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in physics from Rutgers University and spent part of one summer as an undergraduate at another national laboratory, Fermilab, and two summers at KEK, the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Japan. He did graduate research for five years at CERN, the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or European Council for Nuclear Research in Switzerland.
After obtaining a Ph.D. in particle physics from Boston University, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota for two years while working on the Muon g-2 experiment at Brookhaven National Lab, which measures the behavior of particles called muons, that are heavier than electrons, in a giant accelerator. The experiment is now at FermiLab. He then spent two years as a postdoctoral researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab working on the Solenoid Tracker at RHIC (Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider) or STAR experiment, which recreates the kind of plasma consisting of quarks and gluons that scientists believe was created shortly after the big bang at the beginning of the universe.
About that time, Zimmerman got interested in entrepreneurship and he pivoted to a position as chief technology officer at a start-up software company called YOUpowered, Inc. “I realized that while I will always miss physics research. I am also drawn towards the types of interdisciplinary problem-solving that is required in commercial and legal settings.” Zimmerman said.
He worked for nine years at an intellectual property commercialization consultancy, ThinkFire Services USA, before obtaining his law degree at Rutgers University School of Law-Newark. “While at ThinkFire I understood that for me to be most effective in helping innovators I would need to develop legal expertise in addition to my technical background.”
Zimmerman practiced patent and licensing law at the Wolff & Samson PC law firm and then took a job as director of intellectual property for Nielsen Communications, Inc., before moving on to do patent law at another law firm, Kim Winston LLP, for several years.
As director of licensing at Rutgers University’s Office of Research Commercialization, Zimmerman founded and led Rutgers’ first dedicated copyright licensing program. For the past three years, he was leader of commercialization efforts at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, where his efforts set revenue records.
Building relationships with industry
Zimmerman said developing partnerships with industry goes beyond simply managing contracts. “A successful partnership has to be grown and tended like any other relationship,” he said. “Ultimately, we want to launch a relationship in which one research project leads to another and another. As the relationship grows the cycle will incorporate additional elements such as licensing, workforce development, and scientific collaboration with the partner.”
An additional challenge is getting the word out about PPPL’s capabilities, Zimmerman said. “For every three companies that start working with the Lab and have successful experiences, I would love to see connections made with 15 other companies that hear about that success and want to engage with the Lab,” he said.
A New Jersey native, Zimmerman grew up in Middletown where his parents and grandparents all worked for Bell System and his father was an engineer at Bell Labs. He has since lived in several countries and several states in the U.S. before returning to New Jersey 20 years ago. He lives in South Orange with his wife Susanna Einstein, a literary agent and the founder of Einstein Literary Management (and a distant relation of Albert Einstein), and their 9-year-old twins Lulu and Tommy Einstein Zimmerman. Zimmerman plays several musical instruments, including the accordion, harmonica, and guitar, and enjoys kayaking. He loves to travel.
A vision of the future
Zimmerman said he is enthusiastic about PPPL’s plans to expand the Laboratory and its plans to build a cutting-edge new building, the Princeton Plasma Innovation Center. The building will have office space, laboratories, and collaborative space for research aimed at industries of the future such as microelectronics. “I’m coming in with a sense of ownership,” Zimmerman said. “When I think of the lab in 2027 or 2028, I see myself walking through the Princeton Plasma Innovation Center, and I have in my mind a vision of what we’re trying to create. I can’t say enough about how excited I am to be part of PPPL’s mission!”
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 largest single 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, please visit science.energy.gov.